Volunteering to help make a difference in our community is something that many of us would like to do, or do more often, but finding a time that works or an activity that is interesting can sometimes be challenging.
The UNH Cooperative Extension has created a simple and easy way to match volunteers to environmental activities that make a direct impact on the community.
Malin Clyde, the UNH Cooperative Extension’s Specialist for Community Volunteers, is the Project Manager of a website called “Nature Groupie,” an online resource that helps you find volunteering opportunities that fit both your schedule and your interests.
“Nature Groupie’s Mission is to empower generations of outdoor enthusiasts to volunteer for nature in New England, because we know what a network of nature lovers can do to change the world," Clyde explained.
“Nature Groupie makes it simple to volunteer for the environment. It's essentially an Airbnb for outdoor volunteering,” said Clyde. “We are making it easier for people to volunteer outside by putting all the opportunities in one place, where you can easily choose a date, time and activity that works for you or your family.”
According to Clyde, Nature Groupie came about because New Hampshire saw a boom in land conservation through the 1990s and 2000s, so the need for caring for lands and waters increased. Groups, most with limited resources, recognized that volunteers were a potential source of help –clearing trails, removing invasive plants, cleaning up garbage – but most groups didn't have much capacity to work with volunteers.
“It was an area ripe for collaboration,” continued Clyde, “so UNH Extension looked around the country for models of how to collaborate around volunteer action. In 2012 and 2013, we brought together over 80 conservation organizations in New Hampshire and neighboring states, to determine priorities for working with conservation volunteers. We heard groups wanted help recruiting volunteers, particularly younger volunteers, help improving use of technology (things like online registration and social media were desired), and help training volunteers. These have been the focus of Nature Groupie since then. The shared online calendar and website launched in January 2014, so we are starting the fifth year of the collaborative volunteer calendar.”
Nature Groupie is a collaboration to support New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts conservation groups. Over 200 organizations in New England post their outdoor volunteer opportunities on the Nature Groupie events calendar. To get the word out, Nature Groupie sends out weekly bulletins with new volunteer opportunities and uses social media, like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, to promote events.
“Traditionally many people volunteering are older, because they have more free time, but we wanted to find a way to get younger people involved, like high schoolers, who have volunteering requirements, and millennials,” said Clyde.
“What we have learned after about five years is that older AND younger people are busy, and this site allows people to find something, not necessarily in their town, to volunteer when they have time. We’ve seen great success with Nature Groupie but know that we can reach even more volunteers to help our partners if we continue to share the news about the website. People want to volunteer - it's just not often easy to find a way to do it. Nature Groupie provides that to the public.”
“New Hampshire has done an amazing job conserving land in recent decades,” said Clyde. “Now conservation groups need help caring for those lands: clearing trails, removing trash, walking boundaries, managing invasive plants, putting up signs, and more. Volunteers are vital to these tasks. Without volunteers, the health of our lands and waters would deteriorate, and nobody wants that to happen.”
While Nature Groupie posts events all year long, March is when the volunteer opportunities are abundant.
“In April, May, and June there is something going on nearly every day,” Clyde said. “In March, people still have open calendars so we try to get partners to post events early so they can plan ahead for the busy spring season. We look to schedule things in advance because they get more exposure to volunteers to sign up.”
Volunteers are crucial to the environmental groups' work in our communities, Clyde said.
“We have more and more events getting posted each season, but then it means we need more people volunteering. Our focus is to get more people subscribing to Nature Groupie and if we even get more people to volunteer just once a year, when they have time it would be great. It used to be before we started this all conservation groups would work on their own with just a general call out to volunteers. Now with this platform you know everything about the event, the requirements, the partner groups and you can choose exactly what you want to do where and for the specific time you have available.”
Stacy Mazur, volunteer coordinator for Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge clean-ups, described the impact Nature Groupie volunteers have at her events.
“Volunteers are stunned when they come to a shoreline clean-up at the Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge. They expect to pick up a couple bags of trash. What I see when they start working is how astounded, incensed, and passionately opposed they are to the amount of trash we pull from the Refuge’s shoreline," she said. "Even the relatively small amount of shoreline in the Refuge accumulates tons of debris.”
“There are only three official United States Fish and Wildlife Service volunteers at the Refuge who focus on cleaning up trash on a very limited basis. We would make little headway on tackling the trash that pollutes the Great Bay without the assistance of additional volunteers who see a Facebook post or tweet from Nature Groupie talking about our shoreline clean-up events. Volunteers make all the difference in restoring the Bay to a healthier habitat. I think what they take away from an outdoor volunteering event is a deeper understanding of the impact humans are having on our environment.”
Clyde is thrilled that the Nature Groupie website is gaining momentum, and attracting more and more volunteers.
“We love having people older, younger, from all walks of life, and especially people who haven't volunteered before,” Clyde said. “Our favorite events are the ones that have older folks, families and younger people to create a real mix of community. It’s so easy… just get on our website and sign up!”
To find volunteer opportunities or to sign up for the Nature Groupie newsletter, visit naturegroupie.org.