“I came to Belwin for the land. I was attracted by the mission. I stay for the people.”– Susan Amacher, Belwin Volunteer
As Belwin has grown in the number of acres we protect and the programs we host on the land, so too has our need for help.
While hiring staff has been part of our growth, it’s been the joint efforts of Volunteer Coordinator Connie Hess (a volunteer) and Development Office Assistant Polly Carson (also a volunteer) that have helped us grow to meet our needs.
Several years ago, Connie Hess and her good friend, Bonnie Wheeler, discovered Belwin Conservancy and fell in love with the land and the mission. Since then, the two have participated in countless volunteer activities at Belwin.
When Connie took on the role of volunteer coordinator in May 2019, she brought the program up to speed with her passion for organization, communication, and working with people. Today, by her count, there are more than 100 active volunteers – a quarter of whom are new to Belwin this year.
The volunteer team has done everything from washing windows and removing fencing on the Bison Prairie to assisting at Belwin’s major annual events. Music in the Trees, Night in Nature, the 50th Celebration Open House, and the Winter Solstice Bonfire “could not happen without the help of all of the volunteers,” Connie says. Each major event requires at least 50 hours of volunteer time, some upwards of 100 hours.
Making a difference
A group of land-focused volunteers cropped up last spring and quickly became known as the Workaday Wednesday crew. Every week, from May through late November, the group spent two hours on a land management project. From tree planting to invasive species removal and seed collecting, Belwin Interpretive Naturalist / Restoration Specialist Lynette Anderson set the challenge and the volunteers delivered.
“Every Wednesday that we got together, there were a minimum of eight volunteers. If ten people volunteered, that was 20 hours, or half of a full-time work week, that we got done in just two hours!” Lynette says. “The volunteers were not only doing an integral job, they were consistent in their integrity to do a good job and they saved us a lot of time.”
Connie estimates that the Workaday Wednesday crew donated approximately 362 hours, hand-pulling invasives, planting new trees and shrubs, collecting seeds, planting Eco-Patches, installing and maintaining fencing around the Eco-Patches, and so much more.
Helen Pennie is a volunteer who lives near the Bison Prairie. While she’s been helping occasionally over the past six years, last summer she really got involved as one of the Workaday Wednesday crew.
“I love what Belwin is doing to preserve this beautiful land and I am grateful to be a part of this,” Helen says. “When I volunteer, I feel like I’m making a difference and the staff continually reinforces that.”
Susan Amacher began volunteering at Belwin last spring. “I love being out in the natural world. I want to support the mission, and there are wonderful people to volunteer alongside,” she says. “The most rewarding part is being able to see improvements to the land where I’ve worked and also seeing people enjoying their time at Belwin events.”
Opportunities for everyone
Weekly support from a dedicated group of volunteers is an amazing gift. We are also grateful for the help of one-off volunteers – those people who have a few hours of time and want to give back to their community.
Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts from Woodbury pulled invasive species. Students from St. Croix Prep Academy picked up trash and pulled invasives. In addition to major events, Belwin also needed volunteers to help at blood drives, community education classes, Summer Saturdays at the Education Center, and more.
Friends for life
While the programming and land initially attracts many volunteers, it’s the friendship that keeps people coming back. “A wonderful side benefit of volunteering last summer is that I have met some wonderful people that have a passion for nature and have become friends,” Helen says.
Nancy Klinger agrees. “Being out in nature is incredibly rewarding, but being able to do it with wonderful people – fellow volunteers and Belwin staff – with whom you’ve developed a camaraderie, fills me with joy. I consider my fellow volunteers to be lifelong friends.”
In 2021, volunteers donated more than 1,000 hours to Belwin! Thank you to everyone who has helped us in our mission to inspire connections and engagement with the natural world.