Lessons learned from volunteers

Volunteers flex their muscles at Fleming Ranch, AB (Photo by NCC)

Volunteers flex their muscles at Fleming Ranch, AB (Photo by NCC)

December 5, 2015 | by Zoë Arnold | 2 Comments

What does 446 working days mean to you? What can you accomplish in this time?

To me, it means 3,570 hours were donated towards caring for the native Alberta lands I love. It means 20 properties in Alberta were able to receive a conservation upgrade they never otherwise would have received. It means we were able to help protect and restore habitats so that biodiversity can thrive. 

It means that in 2015, 783 volunteers stepped up to lend a hand in conservation in Alberta alone, with over 2,700 Nature Conservancy of Canada Conservation Volunteers donating their time nationwide.

As winter approaches and field season is finally (yes completely) done, I am reflecting on the summer past and the times ahead. I replace my hiking boots with ski boots, and my ball cap with a toque. As each day passes we lose another minute or two of the summer light.

Yet to fade, however, are my memories from these warmer months. These are stories I often tell to my friends and family when I am asked about my work. These are stories that brighten my day, even now. These are stories about our Conservation Volunteers and consist of lessons that will guide me for a long time to come.

I have decided to share some of these with you through a little list I like to call, 8 Lessons Learned from Volunteers:

1. Teamwork comes first

Our volunteers have taught me the importance of collaboration. Their inclusivity and eagerness to welcome new volunteers, young or old, is inspiring. I know I can rely on my returning volunteers to teach their fellow team members the tips and tricks of willow planting, weed identification, rolling up barbed wire…You name it!

I have witnessed friendships being formed and strengthened at volunteer events and I have had the opportunity to form my own. Spending time with such positive teammates is one of the highlights of my job!

Volunteer Denise Harris shows the way with trail signs at a CV event (Photo by NCC)

Volunteer Denise Harris shows the way with trail signs at a CV event (Photo by NCC)

2. Laugh wholeheartedly

Laughter is the best medicine. It’s a powerful tool used to heal wounds and make new bonds. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The earth laughs in flowers.” We can always rely on laughter to brighten our spirits after a morning in the rain, or a day spent thigh deep in caraway. Volunteers have taught me that no day should be taken so seriously that there is no laughter!

3. Be open to new things

Numerous times I have seen the trepidation on volunteers’ faces as I demonstrated how to remove a gnarly barbed wire fence tangled in the grasps of the forest floor or how deep into the bush we must go in order to cut down the invasive buckthorn. Never once however have I had a volunteer give up or walk away feeling incapable. The positive attitudes our volunteers carry with them is contagious and motivating!

Volunteer tries fence removal for the first time, Connop Property, AB (Photo by NCC)

Volunteer tries fence removal for the first time, Connop Property, AB (Photo by NCC)

4. Appreciate life’s simple pleasures

It was the early hours of a crisp October morning. My van was full of volunteers and we were headed west on Highway 533 and then south on the Cowboy Trail en-route to the Crowsnest Pass for a day of hands-on stewardship. .

There was something magical about this morning. I’m not sure if it was the way the sun was rising in the east as the moon was setting in the west behind the mountains, or the moose that ran up the hill as we rounded the bend towards the Waldron Ranch or perhaps the calmness about the land. But one thing’s for sure, experiencing life’s simple beauty is made a whole lot more special when you have like-minded people to share it with!

Norm and Martine planned their travel route around NCC volunteer events! (Photo by NCC)

Norm and Martine planned their travel route around NCC volunteer events! (Photo by NCC)

5. Go the distance; it’s worth it

180 kilometres, 309 kilometres, 512 kilometres: These are the distances travelled by some of our volunteers to attend Conservation Volunteers events across the province. In fact, these distances were not unusual. The dedication of our volunteers is inspiring! One couple toured the province in their camper van and actually based their route off of NCC’s volunteer events in Alberta!

6. The solution after a hot day in the sun is ice cream! 

Ask me where my favourite pit stops are around the province, and you will get a response based largely on the best little-known ice cream suppliers in rural Alberta (and one Mexican place). I have our volunteers to thank for introducing me to many of these places!

Volunteer at a fence removal event near Millarville, AB (Photo by Carys Richards/NCC)

Volunteer at a fence removal event near Millarville, AB (Photo by Carys Richards/NCC)

7.  Never stop learning

Whether it’s learning how to identify amphibians, researching a subject for a guest blog or engaging in thought-provoking conversations with a fellow volunteer or guest speaker, volunteers have taught me the importance of pushing oneself to continually discover new things. They have shown me the value in surrounding yourself with stimulating environments and peers.

Who says we are ever too old to stop growing?

Willows-for-Watershed-volunteers-thumb

Willows-for-Watershed-volunteers-thumb

8. Think BIG

Small changes make a big impact, and a group people, no matter how small, can make a difference. It was always the volunteers who proved to me that no distance of fence was too large, no patch of weeds unbeatable and no trees would be left unplanted!

Our volunteers are change makers.

Happy International Volunteer Day!

Volunteers have not only helped to shape me as an individual, but they have also helped to shape NCC as an organization. International Volunteer Day, December 5, was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1985 as a day of observance to honour and recognize the individuals who selflessly donate their time and expertise, all across the world. This is a day to express our gratitude and make the efforts of our volunteers well known, although truthfully, this is a sentiment I carry with me each and every day!

I am humbled and eternally grateful to have met such an amazing community of individuals. Thank you for teaching me how to find the happy in the daunting!

Check out our video!

NCC staff in the Alberta Region have put together a little video for this special day; we hope you enjoy! From us to you, Happy International Volunteer Day!












About the Author

Zoë Arnold is a Conservation Volunteers assistant in the Nature Conservancy of Canada's Alberta Region.

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