It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Volunteer World
he is ready to join the local Audubon chapter.
Back at the center, it is now 5 p.m.-time to gather up the information on ginseng and fax it to the visitor. At 5:30 I heave a satisfied sigh, smile and say, "See you next week!" to the manager.
If variety is the spice of life, then volunteering is Texas chili.
I remember a particular child, about 8 years old, who told me when he walked in that "snakes are slimy, scary and no way am I going to hold one, so don't try to make me!" I just smiled and let the child know that I was there to explain about snakes and, afterward, everyone would have the option of touching or holding the snake. Soon, the entire group of children-with one exception-were gently touching the young speckled king snake I'd brought in.
When I finished my explanation about the role snakes play in the ecosystem, why snakes shed their skin and how the numerous vertebrae with attached ribs help them be so flexible, I let the kids experience the pleasure of holding the snake, each one marveling at how calm and gentle it was.
After several children had their turn, my uncertain skeptic slowly moved a finger toward the snake and touched it. "It really isn't slimy!" he said. "Maybe I could hold it if you would hold the head for me."
Smiling, I took the snake from the last little girl and held the head while my brave young friend gently cradled the snake's body.
"Wait till I tell my parents-they won't believe me!" he said.
Later, as I was helping clean up after giving a talk to another group, a small voice said behind me, "Jean, can I say goodbye to the snake?"
I'm working as a full-time outdoor skills education specialist now, which still puts me in touch with kids and education, but I found my niche in conservation as a volunteer. You can't ignore and you never forget the good feelings you get from helping people.
Volunteer Naturalist Program
The Conservation Department's Volunteer Naturalist program is designed to reach people on a personal level with a conservation message. Some duties may include patrolling trails, answering questions, staffing the visitor information desk, presenting interpretive programs or assisting with projects that require specific expertise or talents.
Volunteers are expected to present a professional image and meet certain requirements. At the Springfield Conservation Nature Center, for example, volunteers must be at least 18 years old and be Missouri residents. They are also required to:
- attend 32 hours of training spanning approximately 8 weeks;
- work a minimum of 24 hours in each of 2 consecutive months;
- wear a uniform at all times when on duty;
- attend all meetings held for volunteers.
Volunteer opportunities are available at many Conservation Department facilities, including those in Springfield, Branson, Jefferson City, St. Louis, Kansas City and St. Joseph.
Age limitations, hours of training and minimum number of hours spent working may vary depending on the program. For example, one nature center requires 24 hours of training and has a youth (ages 14-18) volunteer program that requires a minimum of 6 hours worked each month.
People interested in becoming conservation volunteers can contact any of the following offices:Springfield Conservation Nature Center 4600 S. Chrisman Springfield, MO 65804 (417) 888-4237
Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery Visitor Center 483 Hatchery Road Branson, MO 65616 (417) 334-4865
Runge Conservation Nature Center P.O. Box 180 Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180 (573) 522-4312
Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center 11715 Cragwold Road St. Louis, MO 63122 (314) 301-1500
Rockwoods Reservation Visitor Center 2751 Glencoe Road Glencoe, MO 63038 (314) 458-2236
August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area-St. Louis Regional Office 2360 Highway D St. Charles, MO 63304 (314) 441-4554
Burr Oak Woods Conservation Nature Center 1401 NW Park Road Kansas City, MO 64015 (816) 228-3766
Northwest Regional Office Visitor Center 701 NE College Drive St. Joseph, MO 64507 (816) 271-3100