Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Reflections on the Pepperwood volunteer community

By Sloane Shinn, Community Assistant

Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.
Marjorie Moore

Collecting native seeds on the preserve.
It was a chilly, wet and rainy winter morning in Sonoma County.  As I approached Pepperwood one recent Saturday, coming up through the fog line and turning the corner onto the beautiful property, I was immediately met with a group of at least 30 people scattered throughout the hillside at the entrance of the preserve – each one decked out in rain gear, hats, hiking shoes  and each one diligently working the landscape to replant native grasses, one of the main preserve management projects at Pepperwood.

Summer 2015 volunteer appreciation party.
I slowed my car and rolled down the window. Celeste Dodge, Preserve Technician, turned around and greeted me with a huge smile.

“I can’t believe this! “ I said. “Look at all these people! What a turnout, even in the cold and the rain!”

“Isn’t it fantastic? We have a great crew today! Our volunteers seem to be really motivated after the holidays,” she says. Celeste manages our monthly Volunteer Workdays and has created quite a community of dedicated participants over the past two years.

Volunteers pose with grass starts at the Pepperwood shade house.
“WOW! Amazing people power!  Ok, I’ll see you in a couple hours up the hill at lunch time.” As I drove slowly up the road, volunteers of all ages turned to greet me with smiles and waves. The hosted lunch and Pepperwood Steward Flora’s fabulous fresh-baked homemade cookies we provide for our workday volunteers will be extra tasty and well-deserved today, I thought.

There are few things in this life that are more inspiring than experiencing a group of people coming together for a cause greater than themselves. As the Pepperwood Volunteer Program Coordinator, I witness this dedication daily. In 2015, Pepperwood received over 7,400 hours of time donated by 190 Stewards, citizen scientists and volunteers!  Our volunteers assist in a wide-range of areas – everything from pulling weeds, planting native plants and grasses, becoming trained within our citizen science projects including climate monitoring, wildlife camera studies, phenology, and the Stephen J. Barnhart Herbarium, to the very highest level of education and commitment – the Pepperwood Steward.

Pepperwood Stewards help at an event.
Pepperwood Stewards are a group of volunteers – most educated with a background in biology, conservation science or as California Naturalists through the Biology 85 course offered through SRJC every spring and fall. As ambassadors to Pepperwood, Stewards provide support across all our programs including preserve management, research, education and community  sharing history and knowledge during hikes, adult education classes and community events.

Citizen scientists collect measurements from 
Pepperwood rain gauges.

But you don't have to make a Steward-level commitment to have a meaningful impact at Pepperwood! Attending one of our monthly Volunteer Workdays provides a great introduction to volunteering at Pepperwood. You'll meet other community members, participate in land stewardship, and learn more about Pepperwood's work including other ways to get involved through Citizen Science projects, adult education classes and our membership program. The Pepperwood community is thriving and welcomes people of all ages who are passionate about understanding and protecting our land, water and wildlife.

Springtime at Pepperwood is a very busy season. We need volunteer support now more than ever! If you are interested in learning more about various ways you can contribute to sharing and spreading the mission at Pepperwood – to advance science-based conservation throughout our region and beyond – please contact me at with the subject line: Springtime volunteer. We are recruiting for various projects and will be holding trainings in different areas over the next couple months.

Courtney McDowell on Pepperwood's TeenNat

Courtney speaks at the TeenNat Gallery Opening event on 8/7/2015
The following is a speech written by 2015 TeenNat intern Courtney McDowell for the TeenNat Gallery Opening event on August 7, 2015. 

There are so many different types of people in this world. People of different size, different shape, different races and ethnicities. There are boys, girls, men, and women; but of all of these contrasting traits, there is one thing that each and every person here has in common; one thing that has pushed all of us together tonight: the love and appreciation of nature. 

"All Clear!" TeenNat Gallery photo by Courtney McDowell

For the past five weeks I, alongside twenty-five other teenagers, have had the opportunity to spend an abundance of time loving and appreciating nature first-hand here at Pepperwood Preserve as a part of the TeenNat program. We have spent countless hours hiking through the redwood trees, collecting real data that is used for actual science, and capturing fun and exciting moments that we have shared with both each other, and the beautiful creatures that nature holds within its midst. We have learned, through practice, how to identify a multitude of organisms, how to navigate using an assortment of tools, and, in my opinion one of the most fun of our endeavors, how to make a giant square in the woods. With each and every new activity that we participated in, our knowledge of the natural world grew with acceleration. 

Each and every day I went home with a deeper understanding of the beautiful world that we have been blessed to occupy. 

"Abduction" TeenNat Gallery photo by Kai Anderson
During my time in the TeenNat program, I gained not only a wide-ranging skill-set but knowledge of how to apply these new-found abilities to real-life situations outside of this internship. Throughout the course of our many adventures, we were given the opportunity to advance our previous understanding of jobs and careers having to do with the natural world that we all care so much about. We listened to lectures given by an assemblage of people who all occupy a different niche in the ecological field of career paths; as well as researching jobs and presenting the details of the profession to our peers. During the last week of our time interning, we were also given the unique opportunity to have lunch with an array of intelligent and experienced professionals in the ecological task force. 

I have learned so much here this summer which I can use both now and in the future. 

"Buzzfeed" TeenNat Gallery photo by Lydia Davis

So, for making this summer a fun and exciting one, I would like to thank all of my fellow interns. I would not have enjoyed myself as much as I did with a different group of people. You all have such amazing and intelligent minds, and I consider myself lucky to be able to be a part of this generation. 

For making sure that all of us got here on time and for all of your hard work, I thank our parents. We could not have come close to such an incredible experience had it not been for you. Your willingness and excitement to hear all about the new things that we learn has driven us to learn even more. 

For pushing us to the next level of understanding and making us think harder than ever before, I thank Nicole and Jesse. You have been such amazing role models this summer, and I appreciate everything that you have taught each and every one of us. I look forward to returning next year as a TeenNat leader to be able to work alongside you in spreading knowledge to my generation. 

For all of the behind the scenes work that I know goes on, but I am not aware of, I thank the entire Pepperwood staff. If it was not for you, I’m sure that the TeenNat program could not exist; and so, I thank you for all of your hard work. 

"Cloaked Sky" TeenNat Gallery photo by Isamar Alamilla
Lastly, for your generous contributions that make both this program and all of Pepperwood happen, I thank all of Pepperwood’s donors. Because of you, I have had the amazing opportunity to spend my summer here, and I could not be more grateful. 

I have made so many memories here just simply being in nature; and for making that possible, I thank all of you. 

I know that as TeenNat continues, more and more of my peers will benefit in the same ways that I have. It does not matter the differences that exist within and between people; because here at Pepperwood, we are given the opportunity to set aside these disparities and simply love and appreciate nature together.

To learn more about TeenNat, click here.  The 2016 TeenNat internship runs from July 5th through August 12th. Applications are due by April 1st, 2016. Click the link above to download an application.