Cape Nature Center volunteers use life-long experiences to benefit others

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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – The value of volunteers at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center is more than money, according to Jamie Koehler, the center’s assistant manager. Although, the actual cost savings to MDC when the contributed time is added up was very near $100,000 for 2015. That’s the amount MDC would’ve had to pay employees for the same amount of time.

“The value we see on paper is those funds saved by volunteers who donate their time,” Koehler said. “The value we see in person is how these dedicated volunteers, who’ve completed a long-time career, lend their skills and love of nature to help build a legacy of a love of nature in our community.”

For example, Jeanie Haertling has volunteered at the center for six and a half years after retiring from working at Heartland Plastics and Hand Surgery in Cape Girardeau. Jeanie loves teaching archery at Nature Center events. She tells a story of helping a blind boy shoot a bow and arrow for the first time.

“We were having a Family Archery Class that I was helping teach at the Nature Center and three brothers stopped by,” Jeanie said. “I noticed one of the brothers was blind and how very protective his other two brothers were of him.”

The older brother said he took archery in School in Arizona and how much he loved it. He was eager to shoot again, Haertling said. When his blind brother asked to shoot, Jeanie had no hesitation.

“I said of course you can,” she said. “We all helped him get ready and he had brothers on both sides of him to guide him.

“I have never seen smiles like that,” Jeanie said. “I knew I did good that day.”

Koehler said not all volunteers teach programs at the center. The current 56 volunteers have a wide range of schedules and duties that fit their own schedules, skills and comfort levels.

“We have volunteers that work a half day every week and others who help with special events when they’re available,” Koehler said.

Volunteer jobs at the center include animal care, teaching outdoor skills, helping with children’s programs, caring for the grounds and native plant gardens, and building maintenance. Koehler said there are certain talents and skills volunteers must have.

“We look for people who have a passion for nature, a concern for conservation, a desire to teach others about nature and they must be able to smile,” Koehler said.

She said the benefit of volunteering isn’t only for the center.

“Our volunteers make some of their best friends here, they learn something new almost every time they come in and they experience that joy of helping others connect with nature,” Koehler said.

Randy Windeknecht is another volunteer who enjoys connecting others with nature. He loves deer and turkey hunting and spends time at the center teaching others to hunt. He said although that’s an activity he enjoys, he also benefits from connecting to people with similar interests and continuing to learn.

“My outdoor skills and knowledge have increased significantly from working with the MDC naturalists and the other volunteers,” he said. “Volunteering is also a way for me to give back to conservation and my community; it’s been a very positive experience.”

To find out how to volunteer at the nature center, call (573)290-5218. To learn general information about the center, including upcoming program information, go online to