On any given morning for most of the calendar year, a visit to Tyler Arboretum includes hearing chatter and outright laughter from people at work. The weather doesn’t stop them, and an amazing group of people readily tackles big jobs. Look more closely, and you will see “Awesome Volunteer” written across the back of their dark orange shirts. Surprised at all the fun? We aren’t.
Our volunteers are busy helping with what needs to be accomplished every time they work at Tyler. They keep returning as they selflessly give their time and talents for the good of these 650 acres of precious land. And they seem to enjoy doing so.
As the Volunteer Coordinator, I am lucky enough to meet with every new volunteer who joins our team. Volunteers typically want to be part of Tyler, whether the initial reason might be to help maintain its serenity and beauty with like-minded people or to fulfill their goals of supporting a meaningful cause.
Most often, I receive an email from someone asking about openings. If it is someone new to Tyler, the message might come within a day of their first visit, telling me how deeply moved they were with the land and seeing everyone enjoying themselves in such a beautiful place. Then they want to know how to join our volunteers and be part of the magic. Others might be longtime members who find themselves less busy and now have the opportunity to give back by offering an additional way to support the Arboretum.
We know there are many reasons people volunteer their time with us, but we thought we’d ask them what it means for them to “work” at Tyler now that they’ve been volunteering for a while. Did the reasons change from when they first began this journey? Did they discover something more or unexpected than what they had anticipated? Here are the questions we asked: What do you like about volunteering at Tyler, and what keeps you coming back? What would you tell people who may be looking to volunteer?
Twenty-eight volunteers took the time to let us know.
The top reason for volunteering at Tyler was because of the people. Some of the comments include: “The staff and other volunteers are great companions,”; “I enjoy meeting like-minded people and making new friends,”; “I enjoy the people I volunteer with and working as a team to get tasks done,”; “I enjoy the friendly and caring staff, volunteers, and visitors.” .Seventy-five percent of the respondents identified the people as a top reason for volunteering at Tyler. Without friendly people working together as a team, tasks like removing the net over the Butterfly House just couldn’t get accomplished. Did you know our volunteers lead most of this task?
Volunteers take down the Butterfly House net, November 2021
A sense of community was the second reason: “I enjoy the sense of community that results from having shared goals,”; “I feel as though Tyler is a family,” “;We volunteers all love nature and the Arboretum, and it is wonderful to share that with others who feel the same as we do,” “;I feel welcome and appreciated whenever I am available to volunteer,” “;I feel my participation is valued and I feel appreciated for what I do.” I pass through the parking lot and sometimes hear plans for lunch being made at the deli up the street. Yes, indeed, Tyler is a family.
Loving what they do.: “I enjoy being outdoors in nature, working with my hands, and generally my whole body,” “;Tyler gives me an opportunity to care for the earth and help my local Arboretum at the same time,” “It’s a win for everybody;’ I love seeing the results of our work, especially when native plants return to areas where invasive plants were removed.” This loving care is evident whether you are hand-pollinating chestnut flowers or washing vegetables for the food bank.
Learning:. “I learn something new every time I come out – either from my fellow volunteers or from Arboretum employees,” “I enjoy learning and sharing new information about gardening,” “I enjoy the subject matter and how the staff shares information and provides support.” Being able to learn and immediately apply new knowledge is powerful. Passing on the knowledge to others is even more rewarding.
The list goes on to include their love for engaging with people on tours and programs, feeling appreciated, supporting a non-profit, enjoying the history, and believing in Tyler’s mission.
Looking back, we see that our volunteers can benefit from perhaps unexpected bonuses. The camaraderie with former strangers and a sense of belonging are powerful and positive feelings, which we humans long to experience. We may be hoping to find this when we join an organization, but to hear you tell us why you volunteer at Tyler and share it with others is gratifying. It also helps explain why I keep receiving emails from people who would like to join our team. Remember, this wonderful outdoor space exists because people like you care enough to volunteer. There are not enough ways to say “Thank You!”