My ability to wake up almost exactly a minute before I set my cell phone alarm to sound is uncanny. I use the 60 seconds I could have spent sleeping to make the decision: do I start my morning routine or do I preemptively silence the alarm and roll over? The fact that the digital clock on the face of my phone reads 6 a.m. and I hear rain falling outside my window weighs heavily to one side of the argument, but I inevitably force my feet to brave the cold floor so I can put on my already muddy work pants, rain jacket, and formerly waterproof boots.
As the volunteer coordinator for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, I’ve waged this internal battle every weekend during the spring and fall volunteer seasons for the past two years. Ultimately, my love of the outdoors and passionate belief in the work we do always wins out. I can’t think of a better place to spend a Saturday or Sunday morning than in the park and revel in the instant gratification of seeing a finished project at the end of the day when you’re sore, tired, and covered in mud. I’m still dumbstruck when I remember that I actually get paid to do this.
What’s most amazing to me though is that hundreds of people face the same decision the morning of volunteer days – do I wake up or roll over – and choose to volunteer for nothing but pizza and healthy dose of good karma. They’re students with a full course load and late Friday nights, professionals who work a full 40 hour week, or retirees who earned their right to sleep in on the weekend. Individuals, families, coworkers, student organizations, and religious groups all turn out to plant trees, remove invasive plants, tend the gardens, or clean up dump sites in all weather and seasons. Without their dedication and the generous support of funders, donors, crew leaders, and partners, we couldn’t do what we do and our parks wouldn’t be the same amazing spaces to connect with nature, observe beauty, and find wonder.
Here’s what our volunteers accomplished in 2012:
- 1023 volunteers at our work days gave 3432.5 hours of service totaling a contribution of $74,794.18.
- Volunteers planted and protected over 1000 trees and shrubs at our work days, improving biodiversity and the ecological health of our parks.
- 52 active Urban EcoStewards gave 897.5 hours of service totaling a contribution of $19,556.53 for UES partner organizations (The Parks Conservancy, Mount Washington CDC, Frick Environmental Center, Allegheny Cleanways, Allegheny Land Trust, Nine Mile Run Watershed Association).
- 210 people were trained through the Urban EcoSteward program on things such as tree and shrub ID, planting techniques, erosion control, invasive plant removal, native seed collection and others, to arm them with the skills to advocate and care for our parks.
- High School Urban EcoStewards from City Charter High School, Sci Tech, University Prep, Perry, Westinghouse and the Ellis School had a total of 535 individual visits where students made observation and reflections through nature journaling, learned about the ecosystems and ecology of our parks, and performed stewardship (which included planting and protecting 186 trees and shrubs).
A huge ‘thank you’ to all of the volunteers who turned out this year – it was great meeting you and I hope to work with you all again in 2013. See you out there!
Taiji Nelson is the Education Program Coordinator for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Ready to be volunteer number 1024? Be sure to check our Volunteer Work Days page for upcoming spring 2013 days and events or email our education department at firstname.lastname@example.org.