by Jennifer FontaineAs parents, we all feel compelled to teach our kids compassion and community while imparting a sense of grace and a connection to a larger world. Family volunteering is the perfect vehicle for parents to model responsible and respectful behavior, instilling in kids valuable lessons of leadership while reinforcing self-worth. Admittedly, incorporating volunteering into our family?s life has been quite a roller coaster, reveling in the years where we have excelled and recognizing opportunities for growth in the years we have fallen flat.
A few years ago, we were introduced to The Friends of Ballona Wetlands project through a great local service that matches people to suitable volunteer experiences based on their criteria. With an award-winning volunteer restoration program, The Friends of Ballona Wetlands?is geared towards hands-on restoration perfectly suited for families who are looking to get outdoors (and/or get dirty).Only 10% of California’s wetlands still exist today, and Ballona is the last remaining coastal salt marsh in Los Angeles County. As we sat on its banks listening to the call of endangered terns and the buzzing of native bees, I couldn’t help but feel both saddened by its destruction and uplifted by the hands of more than 75,000 volunteers working diligently over 35 years to protect and restore this ecosystem.Ballona boasts nearly 600 acres of protected ecological reserve nestled in the middle of urban sprawl, and is home to about 300 bird species and as many unique species of plants. Unfortunately, large swathes of its delicate landscape have been overrun by invasive, non-native plants, like South American Pampa Grass, and Australian Ice Plant.?So, we pulled on our gloves and got to work, yanking out the invaders to make way for replanting efforts. A primary focus of the restoration project is removal of non-native plants, and in the last eight years almost 9,000 cubic yards of invasive plants, trash and debris have been successfully cleared by the caring hands of the LA community. Meanwhile, volunteers work diligently to plant native vegetation back into the wetlands’ rare and expansive network of dunes, highlands and estuaries. This program also offers volunteers a rich educational experience complete with docents and printed material to further impart the importance of supporting community stewardship within these unique wetlands.
My daughter thoroughly enjoyed referring to the graphic of commonly-spotted birds that nest in the marsh. As we hiked along the ridge we were able to revel in the elegant flight of a Red-Tailed hawk and discover what distinguishes the Great Blue heron from a Snowy egret.The importance of restoring and maintaining Ballona is far-reaching and guaranteed to give back to future generations. Preserving these wetlands is important on many different levels: It provides a place for migrating birds to rest and refuel during a long journey, and wetlands possess the ability to filter toxins and heavy metals through vegetation, in turn sending cleaner water back into Los Angeles’ aquifers and rivers.
For our family, learning the seriousness of human effects on the environment and taking responsibility for our most fragile ecosystems allows us to give thanks with a real-world reminder of what is most valuable; each other, and the natural world that envelops and supports us.
Want to help in your area?
Here are some great places to start:
- Faith-based organizations
- Community centers
- Shelters and soup kitchens
- Food banks and pantries
- Nursing and retirement homes
- Area social services/human services departments
Useful tips for successful family volunteering:
Do your research. Will you be working outside? Don?t forget the sunscreen! Planting trees? Bring gloves! Knowing what to expect before you get there will make for a much more enjoyable and purposeful experience.
Involve the kids. Let children in on the decision-making process. Find out their passions and try to incorporate them into a meaningful volunteering experience. Talk with kids about the importance of service, the value of caring for the earth, and the benefits of working together toward a common goal.
Have fun. The single most important ingredient toward ensuring kids will want to volunteer again is a goal of making it a rewarding and exciting adventure. Motivate with jokes, laughter, words of encouragement and their memories will be filled with uplifting impressions instead of laborious chores.