I was overwhelmed by the response for our first virtual volunteer orientation that took place on Monday, June 15th. Fifty new LEAF volunteers spent an hour learning about the importance of the urban forest, the stresses it is facing and what we can do to protect and enhance it. The experience was so inspiring since it followed a period of uncertainty where LEAF, as an organization, had to reimagine its role in a world combatting a global pandemic. How could we, as a community, continue to work towards our mission together in a world where we must stay apart?
Fortunately, we have tools available that allow us to engage with our volunteer community from a distance. Through video conferencing, social media and email we have been able to reimagine how to provide our Volunteer Orientations, Urban Forest Demonstration Gardens and our Community Outreach programs to our volunteers. Some of these tools include:
- Online polls and quizzes during virtual orientations to engage with volunteers
- Screen sharing to teach native plant species identification to our Garden Stewards
- Discussion groups to create garden plans and coordinate gardening tasks
- Social media groups that allow volunteers to share resources and stay connected
- Weekly Volunteer Callout emails that keep our volunteers informed on any organization updates
Also, by offering our volunteer programs virtually, barriers that had once limited volunteer participation for some individuals, such as location and travel time, have been removed. Now, anyone who has access to a computer and the internet is able to participate in our volunteer community and help us protect the urban forest.
Social media is a powerful tool through which our volunteers can engage with their own networks. By providing content to our volunteers to share through their own social media platforms, we are reaching more people to become advocates for the urban forest.
Unfortunately, not all of our volunteer programs are as easily adaptable to the virtual world. Our hands-on community programs, such as our naturalization planting events, had to be cancelled for the spring season. However, we are looking forward to these events taking place once the time is right. While we may not be able to gather and plant on public lands together, this is a great time to introduce native plant species on your own property through our Backyard Tree Planting Program, and encourage family and friends to do the same!
While the process to get here has been challenging, it has ultimately shown us that, much like the urban forest, our team and community is one thing: resilient. Moving forward, we will continue to find innovative and inventive ways to engage with new people to advocate for the urban forest. Even though we can’t be physically together, it’s important that we remain committed to strengthening our LEAF volunteer community.
If you are interested in volunteering with LEAF, please register to attend our next Virtual Volunteer Orientation.
Brian Millward is the Stewardship Coordinator at LEAF.