Explore Nature Nearby: Go Green by Giving Back
"Earth-friendly" volunteer opportunities for folks of all ages abound in our community. Organized park clean-ups, gardening projects, and native plant restoration are hands-on, get down-in-the-dirt ways to give back to the planet. Nearby Nature, Hendricks Park, Friends of Buford Park, Food for Lane County, Walama Restoration, and the City of Eugene all host such projects. If you and your kids like to spend time outdoors, contact one of these groups or agencies (listed below) to find out more about the programs they sponsor. Be sure to be clear that you are interested in family-friendly opportunities and be specific about the ages of your children. If you're child's scout troop or classroom is interested in service learning, these folks can work with you as well.
Used clothing and toy drives and reduce-reuse campaigns are fun for folks who are interested in exploring earth-friendly lifestyle choices. Many local social service agencies and conservation groups sponsor this sort of project. You can also create your own volunteer work by simply having your kids help you sort through old toys and books or clothes that no longer fit your family. You can then make a donation to an organization that works with families in need, such as Relief Nursery or First Place Family Shelter. It's also fun to collect "art supplies" -- things that can't be recycled but are still useful (jar lids, old game pieces, fabric scraps, odd-shaped containers, etc.) -- for the Materials Exchange Center for Community Arts (MECCA, 541-302-1810). Be sure to call MECCA if you want to make a donation to verify that they have room for it! For even more impact, have your kids ask friends and neighbors to contribute to your efforts on any of these projects.
So now that you have some ideas, how can you make sure you make good on your good intentions? First and most importantly, be realistic. Don't plan to volunteer every week for half a day if your family doesn't have that much time. Schedule a project for once every other week, maybe just for two hours. Or perhaps once a month works best for your family. You can always add more hours to your volunteer work if you find you have more time. The last thing you want to do is constantly feel guilty because you have over-committed yourself and your kids. Volunteer coordinators also REALLY appreciate dependable volunteers--and find it very challenging to work with folks who constantly cancel at the last minute.
Inviting another family, your child's scout troop, or your child's classmates to join in the fun is a second way to increase the likelihood that your volunteering efforts will get off the ground. Kids will do almost anything if other kids are included. Moving mulch, digging dirt, picking up litter, sorting old toys...everything is a joyful game when multiple children are gathered in one place. It is important, however, to make sure kids stay focused, especially if you are participating in a group project with other community members. If your kids get out-of-control, they won't be invited to participate in the project again.
One last tip for success--choose a volunteer cause that is meaningful to your family. That doesn't mean it has to be familiar (i.e. it's fine to learn something new), but find something that strikes a chord for your group. Younger children in particular are very here-and-now, meaning that it might be best to choose a project "close to home" -- perhaps doing work in a nearby park or leading a neighborhood used toy drive. The results of your efforts will be immediate and tangible, something that little kids will understand and appreciate.
Volunteer Project Contacts:
Friends of Buford Park: 541-344-8350, Sara Lausmann, email@example.com (native plant restoration and trail maintenance in Buford Park)
Hendricks Park: 541-543-6869, Jason Blazer, Jason.S.Blazar@ci.eugene.or.us (native plant restoration and trail maintenance in Hendricks Park)
Nearby Nature: 541-687-9699, Erin Lamb, firstname.lastname@example.org (native plant restoration, litter patrol, trail maintenance, and gardening in Alton Baker Park)
Food for Lane County: 541-343-2822, Sheyla Norte, email@example.com (gardening)
City of Eugene Stream Team: 541-682-4850, Mike Bellmore, firstname.lastname@example.org (native plant restoration, litter patrol, trail maintenance)
City of Eugene Volunteers in Parks: 541-682-4845, Lorna Baldwin, email@example.com (native plant restoration, litter patrol, trail maintenance)
Walama Restoration: (541) 484-3939, firstname.lastname@example.org (native plant restoration)
United Way: www.211lane.org. The United Way tracks all sorts of on-going volunteer programs, for folks of all ages. They also have information about special one-time volunteer projects. You can search for volunteer opportunities on their web site by age group, volunteering category, or time of day.
-- Beth Stein is the Program Director for Nearby Nature, a non-profit education group dedicated to fostering appreciation of nature nearby and providing tools for ecological living. The group hosts nature walks, school programs, and summer daycamps in local natural areas. For more information, call 541-687-9699 or see the group’s web page at www.nearbynature.org.