Do you want to share astonishment?- What to look for in a Volunteer Role

By delighting them, you can give kids a reason to care about the environment and the impact they have on it. And hands on Science and nature education is about showing kids what is astonishing.

Volunteering benefits your community

There are many benefits to being a volunteer. Most volunteers choose to give their time and talent to a cause they’re passionate about. Being involved in your community and with people who care about the same cause strengthens one’s connection to other people as well as to the cause. It feels meaningful to make a difference, whether that is through park beautification, habitat restoration or inspiring others to care for the environment.
Kids looking at water along a forest pat'h

What is hiding in the stream?

The best volunteer opportunities feel rewarding

Today kids rarely get a chance to go outside and explore what is in the dirt. They need to get outside to discover what is hiding in the water, the grass and under rocks. A hands-on experience with Nature is invaluable.  Our volunteers get to do the best parts of our work and indeed, they are at the heart of our work. They are in classrooms helping students build a structure to withstand an earthquake or figure out what that weird black ball is. (It’s not poop! It’s an owl pellet.) They are playing nature-based tag games with students in an after school program. Or they are sharing the joy of touching feathers, pelts, and eggs with pre-schoolers visiting the EcoCenter.

Kids get an up close look at a squid and learn more about sea creatures.

Recently I visited a kindergarten classroom during a schoolyard snoop. The students had been equipped with their science observation tools -seeing, hearing, touching and smelling – and they were exploring nature in the schoolyard with the help of volunteers. I saw them studying trees, grass and whatever they could find in the schoolyard. The teacher visited the different groups of students and told me the kids were noticing the world around them for the first time. “You would think they had never seen a tree before by the way they are reacting!” To connect kids to the natural world in this way, and instill in them a sense of wonder, is meaningful work. Their smiles and enthusiasm are the rewards.

Read a first-hand account of the Kindergarten Snoop program

Making a difference can be this simple

You may wonder if these encounters with nature make a difference. Yet, many of us can recall a moment when our eyes and hearts were opened to the magic of the natural world.  When you delight a child with the plants and animals that are growing around them you can change the way they view the world. Brittany, our Education and Training Director, told me about her earliest memory of making an amazing discovery about plants when she was 4.

Brittany and the snapdragon

“My grandmother came to visit, and we went on a walk in our neighborhood. At the time I really didn’t think plants were that interesting. They didn’t do anything, and there wasn’t much else to look at as we passed neighbors gardens. Then my grandmother revealed the magic of snapdragons to me! She showed me how they can snap like real dragons if you squeeze them gently. To this day I have a hard time passing by snapdragons without squeezing them” You have probably delighted in sharing Nature with children yourself and understand what a fun and rewarding experience it is to see their eyes light up. Brittany’s lifelong curiosity about snapdragons helped her make some incredible discoveries about them. For instance that snapdragons can hide a whole bee inside them! This opened the door for her to wonder what was cool and amazing about other plants.

There are so many mysteries to be discovered!

Showing kids what hides under rocks and how feathers work is why we love the work that we do. It is so fun to see kids faces light up with delight when they discover something new. It is so important to invite kids to get past the gross factor to explore what is happening in the bay and the world around them.
Kids explore properties of feathers in a program learning all about birds

What is happening when you drop water on feathers?

There are a lot of opportunities to participate in opening the hearts and minds of kids to Nature with us. We have a fun and thorough training program and a community of like-minded people to share the experience with. Even the summers, when there are no school programs to teach, are fun times for our volunteers. There are open hours at the Ecocenter, kits to be repaired and it is an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors together. During the summer volunteers get together – share their skills, go on hikes to places like Jasper Ridge and Foothills Park. Marilyn Hornor, a long time volunteer and gifted artist, hosted a papermaking workshop at her house. Summer time is a special opportunity for the docents to be able to share a passion for nature with friends.

What to look for in a volunteer engagement

First on the list of things to look for in a volunteering organization is that you are passionate about their mission. In addition to that, things to consider are what your goals are. Are you interested in learning something new, or using skills you are not getting to work on in your day to day life? Do you want to find a community or prefer to work individually? Volunteering is a great way to incorporate other interests and skills that you enjoy but don’t get to in your day to day work.  Finding opportunities that work with your schedule, fulfill your goals and that you would enjoy can be time consuming and challenging. To make this easier we are bringing together over 15 organizations at the first annual volunteer fair on August 17th right here in the Baylands. Check our event listing for more information.
References Piliavin, J. A., & Siegl, E. (2007). Health Benefits of Volunteering in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 48(4), 450–464. Marc A Musick John Wilson (2003). Volunteering and depression: the role of psychological and social resources in different age groups. Social Science and Medicine, 56(2), 259-269 Marieke Van Willigen, Differential Benefits of Volunteering Across the Life Course, The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Volume 55, Issue 5, 1 September 2000, Pages S308–S318,