By Radhika Miraglia
Two years ago, a small group of Centennial Volunteers planted a tree in LaBagh Woods as a thank you to my son, Mateo, who was 9 years old at the time. Mateo had sold prints of his bird drawings and raised $700 for the LaBagh shrub planting project. As I watched the young burr oak take its place near the river, I thought my heart was going to burst.
Mateo and I had been inspired by our friend Judy, and her involvement in restoring bird habitat so close to home. And the inspiration just kept flowing from then on. My young boys and I were embraced by the volunteer community at LaBagh. Dennis helped Arav carry buckthorn to the brush pile and taught him about the fire blazing before them. Patricia showed Mateo the best way to cut those skinny little buckthorn stems, and why it was such important work. Linda warmly offered us homemade deliciousness during break time. Jeff thoughtfully engaged schoolmates in the arduous tasks of pulling garlic mustard and lily of the valley. Countless others were out working hard on their days off of work. It was all so inspiring, and I was happy to have found a place among other nature lovers in this kind and giving community.
There is a very important side effect of all that hard work performed by volunteers: while they are busy clearing brush or pulling weeds, they are also inspiring and fueling those who want – and need – to find their place in the fight to protect biodiversity.
As the new north-side field organizer with Friends of the Forest Preserves, I have the pleasure to help grow the network of people for whom restoration work brings that same sweet spot of enjoying nature, caring for the land and waterways, and being around others who want to do the same.
I have big shoes to fill. Josh Coles, who had this role before me, inspired so many of us to take the next step or two, or 15, in becoming restoration leaders. We might not have known that we had the expertise or skills necessary, until Josh showed us otherwise. I’m hoping the fact that he and I both started our careers studying monkeys bodes well for my ability to carry his work forward.
The goal of the field organizer is to build a Centennial Volunteers network around specific sites. This year, we continue to focus on LaBagh, Forest Glen, Clayton Smith Flatwoods, and Blue Star Woods, while planning to expand our reach to others. The program is based on and supports the model of stewardship developed by the North Branch Restoration Project (NBRP), as Centennial Volunteers will carry on the NBRP’s legacy of community-based conservation well into the future. Centennial Volunteers connect to restoration through site-specific work, but should always be encouraged to understand, explore and learn from the broader implications of their efforts within the NBRP, the Forest Preserves of Cook County, and the global ecosystem.
Please reach out with any questions or ideas about how you can deepen or expand your volunteer experience. Restoration work requires a team of varying interests, skills, and strengths, and I’m here to support whichever niche is yours. Thank you for inspiring and welcoming me. I’ll see you at an upcoming workday! firstname.lastname@example.org.
Radhika is in the dark blue coat looking at her amazing son Mateo.
Photos by Jeff Skrentny
This piece was originally published in “Brush Piles: The North Branch Volunteers Newsletter.” Check out the North Branch Restoration Project online at northbranchrestoration.org.