Second Place: Roger Keller, green frog, Hidden Pond near Hickory Hills
Second Place: Roger Keller, green frog, Hidden Pond near Hickory Hills

From Passionate Volunteer to Program Assistant

Posted: October 6th, 2016

I’m Maggie Jones and I was the Program Assistant for the Forest Preserve Experience Program this past summer. 

My interest in all things outdoors began as a kid growing up in eastern Iowa. I loved animals and plants and exploring what my backyard and local parks had to offer. Some of my favorite memories from growing up are taking the family dog to the nearest county park and walking the trails.

I didn’t expect to get involved in conservation or environmental education in Chicago, of all places. The big city and nature weren’t correlated in my mind. I figured I’d need to drive two hours to experience the great outdoors, a trade-off I was willing to accept. I’d visit the zoo occasionally and volunteered there one summer staffing education carts and sharing information about animals and care practices. One thing I found especially fascinating was that the zoo keepers offered enrichment to the rhinos by placing different spices around their habitat each day. This stimulated their minds and kept the rhinos psychologically healthy.

It was a visit to the North Park Village Nature Center where the learning became local. I first visited for their Maple Syrup Fest and loved what the staff offered to young and old with hands-on activities and learning opportunities. Soon after, I began volunteering with the Nature Center’s “Neighborhood Naturalist” program, leading third graders on tours of the center and teaching them about our local environment. Those kids loved turning over logs to find little bugs – they were learning that life is everywhere! They were just as excited to find roly poly’s as they were to spot a deer. I continued to help with tours and special events as well as participated in the center’s educational classes for my own interests.

Last summer I saw a call for volunteers at LaBagh Woods on social media. I’d been to LaBagh once before, for a picnic and brief walk into the woods and since I lived nearby, I decided to volunteer. Josh Coles, the north side Field Organizer for Friends, was leading the workday the first time I volunteered. He showed us how to remove the (new-to-me) buckthorn and how to collect (new-to-me) ramp seeds. Then we took a walk through the woods where we saw a slough and learned how the hydrology in the area changes. We also observed a towering cherry tree that had been struck by lightning and had a fresh scar line across its trunk – it was hauntingly beautiful. That first volunteer day was a great experience, one which encouraged me to return again and again to LaBagh workdays. I continue to volunteer at LaBagh and started volunteering at Forest Glen when the volunteer stewardship program launched this past spring.

These volunteer opportunities led me to my job as Program Assistant with Friends of the Forest Preserves. There is a wonderful network of people dedicated to the work they do and who want to see others succeed in this field. Chicago is certainly a place where you can find and make an impact on the local environment.


Maggie Jones continues to volunteer at LaBagh Woods and Forest Glen Woods.