Friday, December 30, 2011

Expanding Our Education Reach

by Kara Kaczmarzyk, Volunteer & Development Coordinator

By educating the public about birds and other wildlife, conservation, and how to be good stewards of our natural environment, we as a community strengthen. The education department at Tucson Audubon Society is one of our most important and visible endeavors. Really, much of what we do every day at Tucson Audubon can fall under the umbrella of “education” (presenting knowledge to as many people as possible), whether it’s through membership, our website, publications, our nature shops, festivals, or fundraisers. But, there are some activities that fall under a more specific “education” division. This department offers many ways to make an impact through volunteering.

The Living with Nature lecture series is a perfect example. These free monthly events allow the public to learn about their environments through topic-specific presentations. About 20% of attendees to the recent lecture Ecuador: World’s Hottest Hummingbird Hotspot came from the general public (not Tucson Audubon members). While this figure confirms a significant impact and outreach this program is having in our communities, it could be much, much larger with the right marketing and publicity.

The Mason Center’s weekly Morning Bird Walks are a great introduction to birdwatching basics. I can vouch for this firsthand–after doing my first-ever birdwalk with volunteer leader Mike Sadatmousavi around the trail, I was hooked! These peaceful, hour-and-a-half excursions around Tucson Audubon’s saguaro-ironwood preserve on the northwest side have a huge potential to get new faces interested in birding and the organization.

Additional education programs include the Young Birders Club, the Institute of Desert Ecology, the Lifelong Birding Series (I’m looking forward to the Backyard Birding and Beyond class this January), Family Institutes, and many more special activities. Throughout the year, chances are that if there is an environmentally-conscious festival, field day, or collaboration, Tucson Audubon volunteers have a presence.

There is so much more we would like to do in education. Already in my few weeks here, I have heard numerous people ask Tucson Audubon to give a birding talk for their class or group. Currently, our board president, Cynthia Pruett, has a limited group of volunteers who do this as possible. We are always looking for people with a passion for birds and our regional habitats to spend a few hours in our community, educating groups on an as-requested basis.

Tucson Audubon is famous for our free field trips. Yearly, over 130 of these excursions are completely volunteer-led and volunteer-managed, thanks to the outstanding dedication of Volunteer Field Trip Coordinator Kate Reynolds and a great group of regular leaders. There are always opportunities for new leaders to join the fun by leading a trip to a new (or old favorite) hot-spot, or by leading a special-event walk (like at the recent BioBlitz, where 10 volunteers helped students from all over Tucson to inventory the biological diversity of the Sonoran Desert).
One might wonder how Bete Pfister, our Environmental Education Program Coordinator, manages to oversee all of these endeavors while working part time. The answer–she relies heavily on volunteers. The opportunities for volunteering are numerous, from distributing flyers of upcoming activities around town and online to leading a discussion or tour, greeting people at lectures, fielding questions at events, or working closely with Bete on administrative aspects of running an environmental education program!

Whatever the task at hand, volunteers for the education department help people to understand and conserve our natural resources, and we value their many contributions of time and talent! Interested in helping? Please contact me at volunteer@tucsonaudubon.org or by phone to 520-629-0510 x7011 to discuss available opportunities.

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