As a non-profit organization, Sierra Nevada Journeys relies on volunteers to help make our programs incredible experiences for students, parents, and teachers. If you volunteer with Sierra Nevada Journeys, get ready because you won’t be fetching coffee or answering phones. Instead you’ll become an integral part of our mission to build student achievement and environmental stewardship through outdoor science education. Our volunteers are looking for a way to make a difference in the world, they want to learn best practices for teaching hands-on exploration based science, share their love of the great outdoors with curious kids, network with professionals in the field, or even strengthen their resume and receive university credit.
We take our intern and volunteer experiences seriously because we know that they might be the ones to inspire the next Marie Curie or Elon Musk by helping a kid fall in love with science!
Tasha Palzkill, a stay at home parent in the Reno area has been volunteering with SNJ for a few months and feels like the atmosphere SNJ creates for their volunteers is one-of-a-kind, “After meeting with Sean and then being introduced to the teachers, they were all so nice. They made me feel like I had been with their team for years.”
Tasha volunteers during SNJ’s Outdoor Field Studies where students from local schools are taken on field trips as part of our Classrooms Unleashed program. They hunt for invertebrates in the Truckee River or make observations about plants in local forests and then use critical thinking and communication skills to connect their knowledge with their hands-on discoveries.
Volunteers are a real part of the learning process and eventually teach lessons on their own when they become comfortable. Tasha admits, “I think my main concern about the field trips was just thinking, can I do this? What if I forget one of the activities or don’t know how to respond to a question?” She quickly found that although SNJ encourages volunteers to become group leaders, they want volunteers to move at their own learning pace. “All those concerns were out the door during the first field trip that I attended. The SNJ teachers lead the programs, first time volunteers just observe. SNJ makes it really easy for their volunteers, they don’t rush anyone, and you can observe as many field trips as you want before you take the lead. The teachers are great about making sure you are comfortable with the material and activities before they send you off by yourself with a group.”
The main barrier for many who want to volunteer is finding the time with a busy schedule. At first, Tasha was afraid volunteering would take up to much of her time as a stay at home parent, “since I’ve had a ‘free schedule’ as far as running errands, cleaning the house, making dinner, etc. I was concerned it was going to interfere with all those activities that I’m used to doing.” But SNJ worked with her to create a schedule that was manageable with her other responsibilities. “SNJ is so great with the scheduling, they send you the schedule at the beginning of the season (fall or spring) of when the field trips are set and then you pick the days/field trips that you want to do. There is no pressure to do a certain amount. You are the one who decides what days you want to volunteer so you have all the control.”
Tasha has found that volunteering can break up her day and provides her with an opportunity to get out of the house. “Sometimes when you are a stay at home parent, the daily grind just becomes boring,” Tasha says, “You are doing the same things week after week; laundry, dishes, grocery store, picking up kids and taking them to the same places. It is so repetitive at times you can go crazy! It’s also nice to be able to talk with my spouse or kid about the field trips that I’ve done instead of the same old discussions like ‘yeah, I took the dog for a walk today’.”
But what has really affected Tasha is how much of a difference she feels she is making by volunteering with SNJ, “It is just so rewarding knowing that you are making a difference in a child’s life. There are times when the kids tell you that they have never been to Oxbow or Galena and then you get to see their faces when they are looking at the Truckee River or the trees at Galena, it just makes it all worth it. The day when you get a big hug from one of the kids and they say it’s the best field trip ever, how can you not smile and feel like you made a difference? It’s just a great feeling. You are giving the kids a new experience and teaching them new things and yet they give you back so much more. It’s so much fun to see a child’s face light up because they know the answer to your question and no one else in the class has their hands raised or when they find real evidence on a concept that you’ve been discussing.”
Tasha recommends volunteering with Sierra Nevada Journeys to other stay at home parents, retirees, or anyone who likes being around elementary age kids. “To those who are on the fence about volunteering, just try it because after you observe the first field trip, you’ll be hooked.” SNJ makes volunteers feel like they are part of the team, we have a no pressure attitude when it comes to choosing hours, and work with volunteers until they are comfortable leading a program or activity.