It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Volunteer World

To many people, volunteering is a do-something-for-nothing concept. Why would a person want to spend time, energy and sometimes money to be a volunteer? I am now an outdoor skills education specialist, but I began working for the Conservation Department as a volunteer at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center.

The pleasure of volunteering was mine. Any helpful task I accomplished, whether making popcorn for a meeting or giving a snake program for the Kids Club, was highly appreciated. But the rewards went beyond being thanked.

I live in a rural area about 50 miles from Springfield. The thought of driving an hour to volunteer did not seem absurd to me. Emotionally, I was driven! It is hard to express the joy I felt when a child was brave enough to hold a snake for the first time, or an adult thanked me for stopping to answer questions while walking the trails.

Volunteers at conservation nature centers are allowed to find their own niche in the general theme of conservation, whether their expertise is taking photos, growing native flowers or teaching. A day at a nature center might be spent simply walking the trails, interacting with people who use them or answering the phones to sign people up for programs or trying to answer their questions. Other days may be more like this:

At 8 a.m. I head to the back room to gather food for the birds-black sunflower seeds for cardinals and other seed eaters and ground sunflower chips for finches. We use chicken scratch for birds like mourning doves and mammals like chipmunks, stuff a peanut butter/cornmeal paste in drilled holes for the Carolina chickadees and woodpeckers, and put out sugar water for the hummingbirds.

After filling the various feeders by the viewing room, I grab some more ground sunflower chips for the finch feeders located by the large glass windows near the displays.

On the way back with the empty pitcher, I spot an elderly gentleman standing by the front desk. "Can you use some help?" I ask. I get him two copies of Woodworking for Wildlife and discuss how nice the bird, bat and squirrel houses are and how easy the plans are for grandkids to build. He leaves with a smile on his face.

After returning all containers to the back room, I head to the classroom to help set up for "Day Camp Daze" programs, designed for summer day camp groups of 20