The Value of Volunteers

A visitor approached me as I was setting up my skulls for display and interpretation at a visitor center one morning. “Can I ask you a question?” she asked breathlessly. “It’s about a bird we saw.  Can you help?”

I turned and faced the woman. “Sure. What’s the question?”

She opened her mouth to continue, but suddenly stopped and stared at the insignia on my uniform shirt. “Oh,” she said, obviously disappointed. “You’re a volunteer.” She thought for a moment, before adding, “Well, maybe you know the answer anyway.”

Volunteer Work Force

While many visitors acknowledge the value of volunteers, few perhaps realize just how much service and talent is provided by this free work force.

From Habitat for Humanity house builders to Red Cross caregivers to maintenance specialists to visitor center receptionists to naturalists like Chuck & me, volunteers offer a variety of skills, much of which comes from retirees looking for purpose in their post-career lives.

The RV lifestyle has brought us into contact with many experienced, dedicated, and hard-working volunteers capable of a variety of tasks. At one site alone, we work side by side with retired school principals and teachers, doctors and nurses, engineers and executives, some of whom have Phds and other degrees surpassing many of their supervisors.

Volunteer Undertakings

We have seen volunteers diagnose and resolve computer problems, build observation decks, create junior ranger booklets, write pamphlets, deliver travel and tourist information, perform lawn care and landscaping, and operate heavy equipment. One of our volunteer friends even dressed in prison garb and made brooms at the Laramie Territorial Prison to educate visitors regarding prisoner activities of the past. Our participation has mostly involved presenting school programs, leading interpretive hikes, and working with biologists.

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Volunteer Value

After spending half my life volunteering at a zoo, state parks, and wildlife refuges, studying flora and fauna, ecology, osteology, and related subjects, I was stunned by the woman’s reaction to my being an unpaid employee. “Just because I’m a volunteer,” I said, “doesn’t mean I don’t know anything!”

Don’t underestimate the worth of volunteers. Without this dedicated workforce, many agencies and programs would be shortchanged.

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