By Amy Rager, Program Director, Minnesota Master Naturalist
The year 2020 has proven to be a one-of-a-kind year, providing challenges to many as we have not seen in our lifetime. Many Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteers have found a refuge in nature and in their volunteering. To date volunteers have recorded over 28,000 volunteer service hours and over 4700 hours of advanced training. The program has pivoted and provided our Gathering Partners Conference in an online format to 300 volunteers, some of whom would not have been able to participate in an in person event. The types of volunteer service that can be counted towards the required 40 hours of service has been expanded to include COVID19 volunteering. Minnesota Master Naturalist volunteers are engaged in their communities and want to stay that way. We have been encouraging them to do what they are able and is safe. If they can check on a neighbor, or sew masks, donate to a local food bank, or deliver groceries to someone who cannot get out, that is the most important volunteer work that we can do right now. We are also finding that our volunteers are paying closer attention to their own yards and property by working on pollinator plantings, bee lawns, removing invasive species, or creating lists of living things in their own yards in iNaturalist, and spending time in local parks or nature areas, where they can be appropriately social distanced.
One Minnesota Master Naturalist volunteer shared her story with us.
"I have worked for hours many days week after week since April. I am in better physical shape than I have been for years. My emotional health has not suffered during the pandemic, which is saying a lot because I have had intermittent depression (forever) and I’m a social butterfly. I’m just writing to you about this because 1) I hope you’re interested, and 2) it’s a testament to the work you and staff have done to nurture and educate your people! Thank you thank you thank you!”
While 2020, is proving to be a challenging year, both volunteers, staff and faculty are working hard to keep people engaged. Stay tuned for biome classes to be offered online, and in hybrid fashion. We are working fast and furious to meet the needs of Minnesotans! And there is a hunger to learn about the environment right now, the pilot online class, filled within hours of being open for registration and has a long waiting list! We are excited to be able to keep the program moving forward and being able to train volunteers to make Minnesota an even better place to live, work and play!