Volunteerism in 2020
This year started out like any other for us, with fun winter programs and big plans for spring! Typically our volunteer trainings begin in March and continue throughout the year, with our biggest training in April for our spring education programs. It became clear in mid-March that this year would not be like any other and we would have to reevaluate what programs and volunteerism would look like at the Reserve. With school field trips cancelled, the exhibit room closed, and the stay at home order in place the Discovery Center property was quieter than we are used to. Soon however, visitors began looking for safe outdoor activities and our lands and trails, including the boardwalk, became busy again! Some staff spent time working outside, maintaining the gardens and trails for visitors, and some staff worked from home. Our volunteer program was put on hold until the stay at home order was lifted and so to stay connected we moved virtual…..sending weekly update emails to volunteers and connecting on Zoom like so many other organizations.
The virtual connections have continued throughout the year, but in June we began in person volunteer opportunities as well. Staff were so excited to bring back volunteers and even though things looked different it was nice to see some volunteers in person again. Safe volunteer opportunities included garden and trail adoption and phenology at the Discovery Center property in Greenland, the weeding and watering crews at Great Bay’s Community Wildlife Garden in Stratham, and field research in late summer and early fall. Each of these activities were outdoors and either solo or socially distant, making them Covid safe. Typically each year volunteers donate between 3,000 and 4,000 hours of their time to the Reserve and it would be very hard to do what we do without volunteers! Being able to bring back some volunteers this summer was a big step and really helped to support research, stewardship, and a positive visitorship experience!
Between late June and the end of October volunteers donated about 400 hours of their time to our programs this year, and while this is about 10% of their usual volunteerism, it was not for lack of interest! Volunteers continued to remain connected, not just through emails and virtual meetings, but also by walking the boardwalk, visiting our other properties, checking in with staff, sending us pictures of their local adventures to share with other volunteers, and much more! Each November we typically have a volunteer recognition dinner-it is our biggest volunteer event each year. Of course this year had to be different…..we needed to be creative when thinking up a fun way to recognize the work our volunteers do and how much they care about Great Bay and the Reserve. So, this year we did a drive through recognition event that was a hit! Volunteers and staff wore masks, volunteers drove through the Discovery Center and stopped at several stations. It was so great to connect with volunteers in person and give them small tokens of our appreciation, and staff had fun dressing for the occasion!
While 2020 has been a tough year for everyone, and this is likely to continue for a bit, we are hopeful that at some point in 2021 we might start to get back to normal……meeting volunteers in the morning for school programs, buying supplies for group volunteer workdays, and opening our exhibit room with the help of our volunteers, are all things we are looking forward to! In the meantime, we will connect with our amazing volunteers virtually or outside with a beautiful view of Great Bay as our meeting space. Stay safe everyone!