I went to a terrific event at my son’s school last Friday night that reminded me of this line from the “Hokey Pokey.” The event was called “Make the Cut,” and it was an event for people to donate hair to make wigs for cancer patients. Over 50 boys and girls at Thoreau Middle School donated 8 inches of hair in honor of one of their classmates who is currently battling cancer. What a great group of kids, willing not just to raise money, but to literally give a piece of themselves to help others!
Watching these inspirational students got me thinking about volunteering in general, and volunteering for the environment in particular. Although contributing money or participating in a walk-a-thon are great ways of supporting your favorite charity, giving of your time and talents is often even more challenging and more rewarding. One of the ways we can actually “put our whole selves in” to volunteering for the environment is through citizen science. Never heard of it? Well, it’s a way for members of the public to participate in environmental scientific research. I know folks who have participated in scuba diving to help with oyster research in the Chesapeake Bay, folks who have counted nesting loggerhead turtles in the middle of the night, folks who have climbed into chilly creeks to help with amphibian research in the Shenandoah mountains, and folks who watch pandas at the National Zoo for hours on end, logging each of the panda’s movements for researchers to later analyze. When I was working on my dissertation on butterfly gardens, I used nearly 100 “citizen scientists” to help me with my research. My volunteers counted butterflies each week from May to October during the hottest part of the day and submitted their results so that we could learn more about the usefulness of these habitat islands.
Citizen scientists participate in bio-blitz activities in the Potomac Gorge and other spots nationwide. They help count winter birds through Project Feeder Watch and tag monarch butterflies with Monarch Watch. They help survey fireflies in their yards during the summer, and survey for eagles in the winter in New Jersey. The Sierra Club even offers opportunities for service trips for citizen scientists and volunteers! Want to know more? Listen to the most recent program on the Animal House about citizen science.
Citizen science is a great way to get a little bit more involved in environmental science and volunteering. It usually requires no special training (they’ll train you), but if you have a specific expertise that’s nothing but an extra plus! And just like the kids who “put their whole selves in,” the rewards of this type of volunteering are exciting and memorable!