The number of people who are connected with Durango Nature Studies is vast and the programs we offer are many. Some wonder how we are able to offer the many opportunities to our schoolchildren and community with a paid staff of two-and-a-half, plus an Americorp VISTA. The answer is simple: We rely on a great pool of volunteers.
Our volunteer training for our flagship program, “Children Discovering Nature,” also is at the heart of what we are able to offer the community. How many people have dreamed of having a career in the outdoors or of spending days outside with children basking in the wonders of nature? Through our volunteer naturalist training, we allow many people to reach their dreams. We have seen some of our volunteers go on to have careers in environmental education, some have learned they love to teach, some have become paid staff members or contractors with DNS, and some simply add it to their life list of things they have wanted to accomplish.
At Durango Nature Studies, we are always teaching about the symbiotic relationships between organisms in the natural world. Our volunteer program mirrors the symbiosis that we point out to our students. We depend on our volunteers to leverage our resources, but at the same time, we provide our volunteers with a fulfilling experience that often helps them achieve goals or change the course of their lives.
Each volunteer who participates in our training receives a 270-page manual that has been developed over time by Durango Nature Studies’ staff. This manual is a wealth of knowledge in natural history, as well as an accumulation of original curriculum and curriculum adapted from a vast array of sources (such as Project Wild, Colorado Division of Wildlife, Project Learning Tree and other nature centers around the country).
The result is a very focused set of activities and information that correlates with the new state standards in science for grades kindergarten through fifth.
This resource is a valuable tool to help adults who are passionate about environmental education gain confidence in their teaching abilities and understanding of the ecosystem in which they teach. It doesn’t hurt that volunteers with our programs feel like stars in their hometown, as they receive adoration from students they have taught at the Nature Center on Main Avenue, in the grocery store and elsewhere around town. It is no wonder that our training program provides so much to those who decide to take the plunge and commit to what we ask of them.
On the DNS side of the symbiotic relationship, we receive a way to leverage the number of school groups we can reach while maintaining a low overhead for our organization. In 2009, DNS received more than $40,000 worth of donated time from our volunteers. We have now created a new tier for our dedicated naturalists.
Those who stay on as volunteers past the season in which they are trained can become senior naturalists.
These people are taught to teach more in-depth classroom programs, use the Nature Center during down time and receive special trainings through Project Wild, Learning Tree, about specific topics from DNS professional naturalists. However, many say that the T-shirt alone provides the incentive.
The most important thing gained on both sides of this symbiotic relationship is a sense of community and connectedness, both with the natural world and to the people in Durango who have completed this program and care about its goals. Our volunteers make up the DNS family that helps to touch and change the lives of those who become part of it.
Join us for our fall volunteer naturalist training to be held September 15, 17-18, and discover what it means to share nature with children and learn a skill that can change your life.
To learn more, visit www.du rangonaturestudies.org.
“DNS’s CDN program is the ideal way to give so much to the community with just a minimal time commitment. Encouraging the natural curiosity that these kids have is good for them, good for me and great for the future! Thanks for such a meaningful experience.”
– Children Discovering Nature Volunteer
“The opportunity to pass my love and adoration for the natural world to kids is such a gift. Without this program, they just might not get exposed to such treasure. I am really happy to be a part of it.”
– Children Discovering Nature Volunteer
email@example.com or 382-9244. Sally Shuffield is executive director of Durango Nature Studies.