Lessons learned from volunteers
In a typical year, around the time of International Volunteer Day (this year, December 5), I would be wrapping up our final volunteer events for the year and switching gears to planning for the next year. But as we all know, this year has been anything but typical! With a pause in the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC)’s Conservation Volunteers program to ensure the health and safety of our volunteers, community and staff during a global pandemic, I have found myself shifting to developing online events and trying to plan for an unpredictable 2021.
Hard work and perseverance pays off
Volunteer with thistle at Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary (Photo by NCC)
One of our long-term volunteer projects in Alberta has been an annual thistle pull on the Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary, in partnership with the Lee Nature Society. Since our first weed pull in 2006, volunteers have returned every year to spend their day removing invasive Canada thistle. The property continues to have a big issue with this species. However, through the efforts of dozens over the last 14 years, we have been able to clear certain areas of thistle! Our efforts to remove thistle at the nature sanctuary will continue for many years to come. But there is hope in knowing that no matter how big the task is, if you pick away at it little by little, change will come!
In moments when I am overwhelmed by the possibility for another unpredictable summer, I think back to the times I have spent at Clifford E Lee picking this prickly invasive plant alongside passionate volunteers. I am reminded that although a project may feel daunting in the present, perseverance and hard work will pay off down the line.
Remember to laugh
When planning Conservation Volunteers events, a lot of thought goes in to ensuring the day runs smoothly and we can achieve our stewardship goal. But sometimes, the weather has other plans.
Group of volunteers after a clean up at the Jim Prentice property 2019 (Photo by David Thomas)
In 2019, we set out to clean up an old dump site on a newly acquired NCC property in the Crowsnest Pass. The forecast for the day called for light rain. It had been a rainy spring, so that forecast was not unusual. We arrived at the site that day to a little rain; then it proceeded to pour for most of the three-hour clean up. By the end of the day, we were all soaked and chilly, but we left with the biggest smiles on our faces.
I lean a lot on that memory on the days that don’t go according to plan, and remember to find the comedy in the situation! As the world continues to change and throw a wrench into plans I find it important to step back, get perspective and not be afraid to let out a few chuckles.
You are not alone
NCC’s Conservation Volunteers are some of the most passionate and dedicated folks that I have ever met. From volunteers who have been mowing trails on our properties for over 25 years, to individuals who rearrange their busy schedules to spend a day volunteering with us, I am lucky to work with a diverse group of volunteers all passionate about conservation and nature.
The change from working with new groups of volunteers in person to working at home alone was a big shift. Throughout moments of isolation, I find myself drawing on the feeling of community and remembering that although the world can feel lonely and isolating, there are many incredible, passionate people eager to get their hands dirty once it is safe to meet in a group again!
Thank you to our incredible volunteers who have (and continue to) helped us achieve incredible conservation goals. Your dedication, passion and kindness continue to inspire us every day.
Happy International Volunteer Day! I can’t wait to see you soon, once it’s safe to do so!