Room for Everyone

By Sydney Algreen-Hunter on November 10, 2023 in Blog

Every organization has its own set of unsung heroes — the people who put in the work behind-the-scenes without asking for any recognition or glory. The people who do the mundane tasks, who wake up early or stay out late. The people who choose to give their time despite their other commitments. Many of INHF’s unsung heroes are our volunteers, enhancing INHF’s mission through lending their time and talents.

While many of our volunteers participate in outdoor stewardship activities like seed harvests or brush removal, there’s another group of folks who offer their talents for other, sometimes less showy, projects. These unsung heroes can be found taking photos, completing administrative tasks or working at an outreach event. You might hear their voice in a blog or social media post or through poetry. You could see them in the field monitoring species or setting up for a volunteer event. Each of them makes our work possible and, in many cases, more vibrant and worthwhile.

After becoming certified as a Service Enterprise by Points of Light in 2018, Volunteer Coordinator Melanie Schmidt had a new lens to examine a volunteer’s role. Schmidt now focuses on supporting an individual volunteer’s skills and expertise to increase INHF’s impact across all levels of our work.

“As the Volunteer Coordinator, one of the most rewarding parts of my job is connecting with our volunteers. I value the opportunity to get to know our volunteers better while finding projects that leverage their skills and interests to support INHF’s mission. Of all the organizations and places people can choose to spend their valuable time and energy, I am grateful when volunteers want to give back to our work in these meaningful ways.”

Schmidt often works as a matchmaker of sorts, fielding ideas and finding the right fit. This was exactly the case when Hardin County Conservation (HCC) needed a mobile wildlife observation unit. INHF had collaborated with HCC on land donations and in memory of donor Charles Ruby, INHF and HCC thought a wildlife observation unit would be fitting.

An avid wildlife photographer, INHF volunteer Marlen Kemmet had the skills, time and interest to complete the project. Kemmet contributed over 100 volunteer hours researching, designing and ultimately outfitting an 18-foot trailer into a mobile wildlife viewing space. The trailer is still in use today and countless observers have enjoyed the opportunity to see wildlife undisturbed from human interaction.

Over the years, Kemmet has also supported INHF’s work through photography, videography, writing, database management and project planning and implementation. If you’ve browsed our website or read previous issues of our magazine, you’ve no doubt seen some of Marlen’s photos.

“I feel very fortunate that my lifetime in print and digital media as well as project development provided me with the skill sets to tackle several volunteer projects at INHF with little training,” Kemmet said. “Simply put, I like to accomplish things, and I find it rewarding that these projects benefit others.”

Even office projects require organization, determinedness and persistence. Volunteers like Craig Cummings are more than happy to take on tasks that seem humdrum but are crucial for record keeping. Cummings has been volunteering since 2019 to scan old files into a digital format. “I like the fact that I’m doing a task that needs to be done but would be hard to justify having a fulltime staff member work on when they have more pressing work to do,” said Cummings.

Craig has been working in INHF’s Des Moines office nearly every week for over three years now. He’s such an integral part of the office, Schmidt even made him a nameplate for his workspace matching the rest of the staff. After contributing over 300 hours to this project, there is now an end in sight.

“When I started, I didn’t know what INHF was or what they did,” Cummings reflected. “I’ve learned that it is an amazingly important organization needed to protect the natural habitat of Iowa. I think nature is endlessly fascinating, so I will root forever for the success of this organization.”   

Image of volunteers Craig Cummings, Stephanie Roush and Amy Andrews.

Volunteers like Craig Cummings, Stephanie Roush and Amy Andrews are often working behind the scenes, both in the office and in the field. 

A big part of finding the right project match is listening. Friends Amy Andrews and Stephanie Roush, who first volunteered with INHF at prairie seed harvests, shared that they gained experience with bat surveying and ecology through their time at Central College in Pella. When INHF started to do survey work for the North American Bat Monitoring Program last year, we knew Amy and Steph would be a good pair to help.

For the second summer they headed out for several evenings to record echolocation information on a designated route in Mahaska County. This information will be made available to researchers across North America.

“Doing the bat monitoring with Amy is fulfilling in a number of ways. Knowing that we’re contributing to science and larger efforts for bat conservation, beyond INHF, is rewarding,” explained Stephanie. “I’ve heard joy comes from serving others and what better way to do that than to help bats, a creature that can’t speak for itself. Our monitoring work can be their voice.”

Amy and Steph also recognize their volunteer work as time they get to spend together exploring nature.

“We stopped at the end of our route and the stars were so bright. The next night we were identifying constellations and stars. That was one of the best moments and then we made sure to do that every night,” Amy said. “Volunteering got us out at that time of night, and it was one of the best rewards for our work.”

For the staff at INHF, our reward is seeing volunteers use their skills to further our mission across the state. Whether that’s scanning files, taking photos or doing surveys out in the field, volunteers are often the workforce pushing us forward.