Our “Friends” share their stories about why they volunteer…
With friends like these, its no wonder why we couldn’t get by without them! What is a national wildlife refuge or national fish hatchery “Friend”?
Friends groups are volunteer organizations that support national wildlife refuges, national fish hatcheries, and other U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service programs. They are made up of volunteers who advocate for the Service, fund-raise, and support educational programming on the public lands we manage.
We rely on these groups of enthusiastic, hard-working, and determined people, all focused on furthering the mission of the Service. In 2016, there were 15,000 Friends across the nation, and all together the Friends raised 5 million in conservation funds!
Thirty-one leading Friends representing 23 different Friends groups in the region came together last month in Alexandria, Virginia, for a training workshop hosted by the Service. I had the opportunity to meet and talk with many of them about why they’ve chosen to spend their precious time and energy on being one of our very best “Friends.” Here are some of their stories:
I asked the Friends this one question: If you could tell the world why you chose to spend your free time being a Friend and how (being a friend) has impacted you/your life, what would you say?
Answer: Corey Smith, Friends of Outer Island, Connecticut
It was a lifelong dream of mine growing up as a kid to become a park ranger. I grew up to travel along a different career path, but I was looking for some kind of way to volunteer at my local wildlife refuge, Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. When presented with the opportunity, I jumped on the offer. Once I discovered McKinney, I fell in love with Outer Island. I would like for visitors to fall in love with this refuge, too.
Answer: Cathy Beise: Friends of Blackwater NWR, Maryland
When I retired from being an IT professor, I was looking for something meaningful to do with my time that had to do with the outdoors. I wanted to be apart of an organization that was partaking in activities that I could personally identify with. I joined the Friends of Blackwater at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge about five years ago. I’ve spent two years on the organization’s board so far and spent the other three years volunteering. A lot of international travelers visit the refuge and it’s neat when they tell us the refuge is a cool place to be. The current refuge manager, Marcia Pradines, and the friends members have a regular volunteer update meeting together, and the refuge manager was truly inspiring and articulate, inviting every one of us to come partake in this one common cause. These are my people.
Answer: Stephen Atzert, Friends of Cape May NWR, New Jersey
After retiring for awhile from being refuge manager at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge , I decided to volunteer and join the Friends of Cape May NWR. Look around. Everything in this room here comes from the environment. We as humans, like the animals and wildlife, depend on natural resources as much as they do. We need to realize that, and that’s what I’d like for other people to notice too. We need to conserve and protect our natural areas.
Answer: Kahille Dorsinvil, Friends of Wertheim NWR, Long Island, New York
I really really enjoy being outside. I started a new job recently that had less outdoor education than my one prior, and I missed it. A coworker encouraged me to join, suggesting it’s not just participating, but a chance to learn a lot more as well. I truly wish more people could get to Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge because it’s gorgeous. There’s also an accessible trail for folks with disabilities. Everyone can benefit from being outside.
Answer: Suzanne Beaudet, Friends of Aroostook, Maine
When the opportunity arose to volunteer, it was an obvious choice for me. I didn’t think more about it. In the past, I’ve worked with kids, girl scouts, and the outdoors. I was previously a professor of exercise physiology. My experiences while being a Friend have been a collage of great times. I want to let our youth know that we need wild space like Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge.
Answer: John Wilmot, Friends of Supawna Meadows NWR, New Jersey
Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was actually down the street from my house when I was growing up. I was outdoors all day long as a kid, and I was fortunately involved in the refuge early on because it was so close to home. One day, I saw an ad that Great Swamp NWR volunteers had put out looking for new ideas. I went to that meeting and I’ve been a Friend for three years now. If you can get kids outside, that’s the important piece. Contact and exposure to the outdoors limits fears. I recently relocated to a different town an hour and a half away from Great Swamp NWR after accepting a new job. Once settled, I reached out and joined a new Friends group at Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge because I was sad to have moved to a new place and really missed volunteering. I thought to myself, what better way to spend my free time than at a refuge.
Answer: Kim Lutz, Friends of Silvio O. Conte, CT, MA, NH and VT
We formed a Friends group for Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge because we wanted to form one group, which would be more effective in reaching Congress than a bunch of individual entities. Our focus is to garner support for conserving resources refuge-wide, from Vermont and New Hampshire, south to Massachusetts and Connecticut. The whole watershed is important. It doesn’t make sense to everyone, but we aim to educate and share a larger story. The watershed is Conte. Conte is the watershed. Think of everything as one whole.
Answer: Jean Carrigan, Friends of NCTC, West Virginia
I am a firm believer in education and conservation, which is the National Conservation Training Center’s (NCTC) mission. That is why I am a friend there. There is a lecture series held four times a year with different guest speakers and a book signing. These lectures are free and open to the public, although NCTC is typically a closed campus, and the friends group receives part of the book sale funds. One of the lectures was especially powerful to me. It was about women in the 19th and early 20th centuries who were involved in conservation, making the world they live in a better place. A lot were home-schooled, and did incredible things. This inspired me and I’m proud to have come from a long line of strong women.
Answer: Jim Lockhart, Friends of Outer Island, Connecticut
I was already spending much of my free time in nature, so it was a transparent decision to become a Friend. I enjoy telling folks about the geology and history of the land. I especially love when students come in to learn more. One of my fondest memories was building an education pavilion on Outer Island. There was a strong sense of teamwork and camaraderie between the Friends group, refuge staff, and the building crew. We were lifting heavy timbers and locking them into place. We installed the roof in a couple weeks, which provided us with an incredible and satisfying view of the ocean after a day’s hard work. This structure on outer island has great significance to me.
Answer: Karen Dever, Friends of Bombay Hook, Delaware
I joined the Friends of Bombay Hook NWR because I saw cruelty to pets and wildlife, and I wanted to help the cause of protecting animals and to make difference in my community. I also spend time at the refuge to be with my father – the birds chirping, the wind blowing through the trees, and the natural fresh air brings me closer to two things I dearly love. I miss my father and he is with me spiritually, and when I am at the refuge, I feel so much closer to him. I would have joined a Friends group when I was your age (pointing at me) had I known this kind of thing existed.
If you are interested in becoming a Friend, look for a national wildlife refuge or national fish hatchery closest to you!