Volunteer Service in Unprecedented Times

May 29, 2020

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Unprecedented is an increasingly common adjective these days. It should be no surprise that unprecedented times often inspire unprecedented responses. Volunteer service by California Naturalists is no exception. For example, the most recently certified class of 12 California Naturalists at Sonoma Ecology Center completed capstone service learning projects ranging from creating wildflower guides and making native plant nursery labels, to facilitating new nature-themed webinars and participating in on-line community and citizen science projects. All this, accomplished with stringent SIP orders and a complete shutdown of local parks and open spaces.

Traditionally, California Naturalist volunteer service falls into four categories:interpretation/education; conservation/restoration, community and citizen science, and program support. With the rollout of the UC Climate Stewards course this fall, we have added two new categories of service to the Volunteer Management System: 1) Climate and Environmental Justice, and 2) Community Resilience and Adaptation. These categories are available for use by California Naturalists logging volunteer hours now and to Climate Stewards in the future.

To support the efforts of our partners and California Naturalists, we encourage naturalists with the capacity to continue volunteering to explore new forms of volunteer service that don't involve direct contact with others. This may include at home, online, or over-the-phone activities. In addition, the program will recognize un-paid service with a wider community lens that exemplifies the new Community Resilience and Adaptation category. Some examples include helping to create online natural history lessons or virtual experiences, donating blood, supporting a community hotline, supporting contact tracing, sewing face masks, or calling to check in on neighbors and helping them run essential errands. While any form of volunteer service involves some level of risk, when a simple conversation becomes a potential public health threat we are in uncharted territory. Organizations that engage California Naturalists as volunteers are following local guidance and making adjustments to ensure volunteer safety. We support those efforts. In the end, each individual California Naturalist must weigh their abilities, personal risks, and the benefits of volunteer service.

The California Naturalist program does not require volunteer service to maintain certification, but it does incentivize service with an annual service pin (Those that logged 40+ hours last year haven't missed out- 2019 Pins haven't gone out yet due to COVID-related delays on the manufacturing end). These new categories of service and the increased flexibility to recognize safer options to contribute to community resilience reflect changing priorities, the needs of California Naturalists, and the challenges facing the communities we live in and serve.

Staying meaningfully and safely engaged can provide benefits beyond the community and the environment. As many of us seek to develop coping mechanisms to reduce stress, anxiety, and build a sense of purpose, volunteering can help buffer these challenges and connect us more deeply.

With gratitude for all you do, be well and do good.