The following column was submitted to JSC by long-time Bolton resident Bill Wilson who is also working on a book entitled “True Nature Conservation”.
Volunteerism is about how we humans can learn about and help other humans.
While I was volunteering with Hike Ontario the Past President David Francis, confided to me the following:
“I have found that in the world of volunteers, nothing is perfect and things happen slowly until the pressure is on, then there is a burst of activity, followed by another lull. It is not a perfect world, but it is the best we have got”.
“I have found that being a chair of a committee is like being a conductor with a volunteer orchestra. One needs to provide leadership, but recognize that you are dealing with varied personalities, talent, and commitment. You have to get the best out of the people you have, not expect too much, and recognize that their commitment to their volunteer work comes at the bottom of the totem pole. First comes their health, then family, then friends, then home maintenance, then recreation, then volunteering”.
Having been involved in a few volunteer organizations for the last 60 years, I can say that Francis’s characterization is very close to my own idea of volunteerism. The volunteer condition can be rewarding but it is fragile and continually subject to forces which can sweep away even the most honourable agendas.
I have found over time that improving or “adding value” even through routine tasks to a single community partnership may require extreme patience but can be deeply gratifying. I believe that “adding value” during volunteerism encounters especially means improving how well we combine our skills to learn from nature and other human beings. Successfully adding value to a single community partnership is one of life’s little victories.
Government agencies and private industry cannot, alone, provide the stewardship needed for a sustainable environment. Conservation Authorities have much more land than they can adequately manage. Volunteer nature conservation groups are needed to continue a host of initiatives related to reducing our ecological footprint by consuming less, recycling more, seeking renewable forms of energy, helping to reconcile differences, maintenance of hiking trails in their community/backyard and helping children enjoy nature. Responsible, local community volunteers, with minimal guidance, have a potentially huge role in nature conservation. And as the volunteer condition is fragile, a continuing supply of willing volunteers for nature conservation is most important.
There are many local nature stewardship opportunities in which volunteers can take “virtual ownership” of our natural environment and be rewarded with a lasting sense of personal fulfilment. These volunteers also understand their free time provides a valuable service free of taxpayer cost. By collaborating with governments and corporations, local charitable volunteer groups can become eligible to win grants of considerable sums of money for local projects.
Nature conservation needs volunteer citizen involvement to not only achieve local successes but to spur on positive actions of a wider regional scope with partnerships and collaborations with government, private industry and service clubs. During their local service area volunteers can legitimately question the adequacy of local government parks and waste management. Volunteers can also become aware of and act upon opportunities for bringing issues to higher levels of government.
Communities especially need constant vigilance and local volunteer stewardship to assess how well local governance abides by our existing land use policies. The Province of Ontario protects several environmentally sensitive areas from development such as the Niagara Escarpment, the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Greenbelt. These land use decisions show and describe where “no development” means no. This is certainly an opportunity for volunteer members of hiking and nature conservation groups to support Greenbelt preservation!
David Suzuki 1997 asks in his book “The Sacred Balance, What Can We Do?” He states that we can “Protect the vigour and diversity of our local communities. The social unit that will have the greatest stability and resilience in the future is the local community, and Get Involved”.
I find that the health of my friends and family are inevitably connected to the health of the wider environment and community I live in. The most positive adventure I have discovered is to speak and act for nature on behalf of my community as a volunteer – that is: to become connected with my community. I have found that joining local partnerships in a volunteer capacity and achieving a degree of success with a few little victories generates a sustaining personal and local group pride.