Volunteer Voices

By Rowan McMullen Cheng on April 17, 2019 in Blog

Prairie seed harvest

April is National Volunteer Month, a time to celebrate the positive impact of volunteers. It’s no easy task clearing a multiflora rose bush or pulling garlic mustard off a steep slope. From Iowa’s blufflands to the Loess Hills, INHF volunteers’ valuable time and skills help protect and restore Iowa’s natural lands. For their continuous hard work this month and every month, we thank them. 

In the six years Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) has had a volunteer program, the number of annual volunteers has increased 45%, the number of volunteer events has tripled and the total time volunteers contribute each year continues to increase. In 2018 alone, INHF volunteers invested more than two months on the land, at outreach events and in our administrative office.

“It isn’t just about the number of hours or the work that gets done,” said INHF Volunteer Coordinator Melanie Louis. “It’s about a love for INHF and our mission, sharing with others and the impact nature has on all of us.”

Volunteering with INHF is a great way to meet others who enjoy being in nature, experience places you might otherwise not have the opportunity to visit, engage in local conservation and positively affect Iowa’s land for future generations. Activities can include land restoration, outreach, promotion, office assistance, specialized projects, hospitality and special events. We also welcome ideas and projects from our volunteers that enhance our communities.

Marlen Kemmet, a special project volunteer at INHF’s downtown Des Moines office, has worked with multiple staff members on various projects ranging from photography to construction of a wildlife viewing blind.

“It’s about being able to give back and the importance of this work,” said Kemmet. “People are going to benefit - that’s my big motivation.”

INHF also has volunteers help with daily tasks in our office.

“I enjoy watching people come together for a common goal,” said Cathe Wilson, one of INHF’s original office volunteers. Wilson helped established office volunteer roles and responsibilities when the volunteer program was first being developed; she hasn’t stopped since. “It [volunteering] is a good reason to get up, get ready and go out.”

In 2018, INHF earned Service Enterprise accreditation, a national recognition awarded by Points of Light to organizations that engage volunteers across all levels of the organization. Going through the accreditation process promoted staff to think about additional opportunities to engage volunteers in all areas of our mission.

Jeff Jutting
Jeff Jutting takes a quick break while removing invasive species at Perkins Prairie. Photo by INHF volunteer Marlen Kemmet.

INHF recently expanded volunteer opportunities within the stewardship department to include the Land Ambassador program. Designed for highly skilled individuals interested in making a long-term commitment to land management and restoration. Land ambassadors work independently on properties across Iowa. However, land ambassadors do more than boost stewardship.

“It’s really about just getting out here and enjoying it. To be outside, to enjoy the sunshine or the snow or the wind or the company of other people. That’s more important than how many dogwood I’ve taken out,” said INHF Land Ambassador Jeff Jutting.

In addition to battling invasive species, Jutting is a future-oriented outdoor advocate. He enjoys a midday rest along a rolling crest of purple prairie coneflowers as they gently wave in the breeze, as well as planning how to bring last season’s beavers back up the creek and best share Perkins’ Prairie with future generations.

A land ambassador in Cedar County, Tyler Baird, focuses on restoring and managing the oak savanna at INHF’s Tipton Woods property.

“I measure success in accomplishing a task, in the feeling of peace I get from working on the land and with the conservation community,” said Baird. “The ultimate success will be what we leave for future generations, and I enjoy volunteering my time to help ensure natural areas are always available.”

Tipton Woods
Tipton Woods in Cedar County Iowa. Photo by Tyler Baird.

INHF volunteers help create resilient communities across Iowa through their conservation efforts, the care they invest in the land, in each other and their excitement to share their volunteering stories with others. Each INHF volunteer has their own unique reason for sharing their time, talent and passion with INHF. Together, they create a place native plants and wildlife can thrive and a space for camaraderie to grow.

Want to learn more about how your unique skills can advance our mission? Contact Melanie Louis at mlouis@inhf.org or 515-288-1846, ext. 35