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Why I volunteer for Audubon Arizona
“Are there snakes?” “Will we get bitten?” “Ugh there’s a spider, kill it.” “You want me to put my fingers in the mud?”
Those are just some of the things children have said to me when they first visit the Audubon Center. If you are lucky, and we usually are, by the time they have worked their way through the program they will have stopped worrying about snakes and forgotten insect bites and will quite happily be handling mud, owl pellets and all the small wiggly creatures we can capture.
Working with children is always worthwhile but particularly here at the Audubon Center. For the majority of the children who come in for school and after school programs this may well be the first time they have ever visited and interacted with a truly natural area. Sometimes they live in apartments with no backyard of their own, often their parents work two jobs and long hours, their schools are not blessed with good environmental habitats. The three hours they spend exploring the Rio Salado habitat may be the most time they spend in nature all year.
Well we can’t do miracles and maybe only five out of every hundred children we see will come back, maybe only one in every two hundred will become truly involved in environmental activities, but that’s still 6 more children than would have been possible if there weren’t volunteers to help the staff at the center.
For the rest of them, well perhaps in 15 or 20 years’ time they’ll want to encourage their own children to spend outdoors because they remember a morning or afternoon outside with binoculars or magnifying glasses that was such fun. And of course that’s the other reason I’d encourage other people to volunteer, it’s such a fun activity and you learn so much. The River Keepers program has taught me about pollinators, non-point source pollution, mammals in Arizona and the history of the Salt River – I can’t wait to help out with the River Pathways in the fall so I can find out how you monitor rivers and what green line analysis is. You don’t need to be an expert because you have the staff to help out, and telling the children you don’t know but let’s find out together is a great way of teaching them.
Earlier this spring we had a field trip where; and let me make this clear it was a very unusual event; the teachers hadn’t done enough preparation work and they weren’t very active in keeping the children controlled. The children weren’t badly behaved but they were over excited, lacked focus and were just hard work. When I took the last of the three groups for the bird walk I was getting pretty tired but the children didn’t want to turn round and come back for their lunch. Reluctantly they dragged themselves away. One of the boys had been particularly difficult during the walk, he’d rushed in front, had to be told to stop chasing the cottontails and didn’t seem to be listening to what I was saying at all. Suddenly he ran to catch up with me. I remember thinking something on the lines of “What’s his problem now?”
“You know Miss,” he said, “It was great stroking those dead animals.” It’s not how we normally refer to our specimen animal skins but I knew what he meant. He looked over the river banks for a moment assessing what he saw. “This place is really neat.” Of course I agreed and reminded him he could come back at any time. He was quiet for a minute or two as if he was weighing something up in his mind. “This has been the best field trip we’ve ever been on, ever.”
So on behalf of nature-deprived children of all ages I encourage you to come and join in the “best field trips ever.”
-Audubon Arizona Volunteer