A young volunteer sells raffle chances at a sporting clays fundraiser for conservation.
With age comes a more philosophical understanding of the effort life requires. Even though mankind has greatly simplified the necessities of survival – food, water and shelter – we have greatly complicated living. Ours is a very busy society. So when people decide to give of their time as a volunteer, they are sharing their most precious resource. This Thanksgiving, I am especially thankful for all the volunteers who dedicate themselves to efforts and organizations benefitting our environment and furthering conservation efforts.
Non-profits are like a puzzle; all the pieces have to be in place for it to work right. A successful organization demands so many diverse components. A solid staff and strong mission are the foundation. Funding is critical, so there must be supporters with the financial means to keep the lights on. But boots on the ground move missions forward. Often, folks working for free fill those boots. Volunteers make the magic happen.
When I reflect on the past year, and think of all the events I attended, it’s hard to begin adding up the number of volunteers I witnessed happily giving their time. The guys who were pouring drinks at the local National Wild Turkey Federation banquet were having fun. And so were those ordering, who turned around and bought raffle tickets and auction items. Together, the volunteer bartenders and attendees were raising money to be used for habitat projects and educational events across the state.
I watched this same scenario play out at events benefiting waterfowl, parks, prairies, forests, quail, elk, whitetails, trout, smallmouth, grouse and more. At each of these fundraisers, volunteers poured their hearts into their roles, and collectively made our world better. I’m thankful.
Maybe you haven’t been attending any local conservation organization events. Maybe you think to yourself, I certainly don’t need any more stuff, so I’m not interested in the auctions. And let’s be honest, it’s usually banquet facility food, so most people aren’t coming for the rubber chicken. If that sounds like you, then you’re a perfect candidate to be a volunteer. You get to serve the cause and it doesn’t cost a thing. You spend time with friends and meet more like-minded folks. Your rubber chicken is free. But best of all, you’re making a difference for a cause you care about and that feels good.
I want to say I am especially thankful for all the hunter education instructors out there. These men and women teach classes for nothing more than the hope of ensuring the safety of new hunters and all of those around them. The efforts of hunter education instructors continue to make us a better class of sportsmen. I strongly support the benefit one gains from taking an in-person, hands-on hunter education course.
Volunteers giving their time to work on conservation initiatives in urban environments also get a special thank you from me this year. You are making our cities more natural places to live and work. Open space and greenways allow the largest population bases across the state to enjoy the benefits of nature. Most of these areas are supported by non-profits made up of volunteers working to protect and enhance these special places. Thank you.
Joining an organization is great. I belong to more than a dozen. But volunteering does not have to be organized. There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer on your own. Head out to a state park or a conservation area, and take a walk with the purpose of picking up any trash you find. Carry a bag with you. When it’s full, you’re done. Well, unless you want to fill another. Set goals and budget time to spend as a volunteer. Such parameters prevent burnout and keep you serving at a strong, steady pace.
Making a living is not the same as making a life. If you are looking for a way to enrich yours, become a volunteer. It’s a way to work for what you love. As a volunteer, you choose your path of impact. The feeling you get when you know your efforts matter is fulfilling. If you’re interested in making the world a better place while enriching your own life, I encourage you to become a volunteer.