This week, we talked with Tom Branch, the Vice Chair of the Friends of Frazier-Rowe Park. His Friends group had an incredibly successful year of volunteer days, and we wanted to share his secrets with you 🙂 Below are the main take-aways from our convo, but if you’ve got time to read a more in-depth account of what makes their days so great, then continue reading!
Tips for a great volunteer workday:
- Recruit volunteers by reaching out to local community groups and churches.
- Utilize Park Pride resources for a successful workday – John Ahern, Volunteer Manager (firstname.lastname@example.org), is always on-hand for advice, connections, and tools.
- Maintain consistency in volunteer day dates – pick a day weekly, monthly, quarterly (whatever!), and stick to it.
- Have a few Volunteer Leaders from the Friends group at each workday to train, supervise, and keep groups motivated!
- Match appropriate jobs to your volunteers – consider an individual’s strength and skills when asking them to perform a task. The workday needs to be fun for them to keep them coming back!
- Provide refreshments! – Not a hard and fast rule, if you make people comfortable while they’re working, they’re more likely to come back.
Still with us? Great! Read on for more detailed information from Tom about Frazier-Rowe Park and their volunteer program:
Can you give us a little background on Frazier-Rowe Park?
The park land that would become Frazier-Rowe Park was purchased by DeKalb County in 2010. From September 2011 through August 2012, community members met several times to discuss possible plans for the property. At that time the property, which was completely covered in trees, was severely overgrown with invasive plants. English Ivy covered the trees in some areas of the park, and privet had spread throughout. Large amounts of trash, including tires, had been dumped there. In other words, it was a real mess. The park could not be used or enjoyed until the invasive plants and trash were under control, so the Friends of Frazier-Rowe Park started having community workdays in February, 2013.
How did you recruit volunteers?
I started by creating an email list to publicize the workdays with people who I knew from the community. We promoted workdays to a local Boy Scout troop and the largest local church. There was a lot of interest from both church members and the Scouts. By building interest and the email list, we had over 50 volunteers for our first couple of workdays.
How have you maintained momentum?
Since then, we have had a workday on the second Saturday of each month, except for July, August and September, which we skip because of the heat and insect issues, and January, which we skip because of cold weather. The consistency of setting a date for each month helps to retain volunteers because they’re able to plan ahead for the next workday.
John Ahern, Park Pride’s Volunteer Manager, also introduced us to three different volunteer groups in need of a site at which to volunteer, and we have stayed in touch with those groups. John is a great resource – he is always available for questions and advice! People continue to come back to workdays when you make it fun and create positive energy.
Each Friends group should have a team of at least three people who can participate in running a workday. One person cannot attend every event, nor can one person come up with all the jobs AND supervise the volunteers doing different jobs in different parts of the park. Having multiple leaders creates energy for your workdays and more interest in your park on the part of the volunteers, who get involved in specific tasks that they may have an aptitude for.
What are your key suggestions for a successful workday?
The trick with these workdays is to generate enough volunteers and then match volunteers with tasks and tools. Tools are easy to come by because DeKalb County has plenty of (non-mechanized) tools, which you pick up and return. For registered Friends of the Park groups, Park Pride also has a “toolshed” that you have access to: gloves, shovels, pitch forks, rakes, loppers, hand saws, pick mattocks, weed wrenches, trash grabbers, tarps, wheelbarrows and water coolers.
As far as tasks are concerned, don’t assume that the volunteers will have extensive knowledge of plants, gardening or landscaping. The tasks need to be straightforward, such as spreading wood chips, cutting ivy off of trees, or removing privet. There are usually a wide range of strength levels, so it helps to have some easy jobs, like planting flowers or raking chips, plus some more challenging jobs, like pulling up privet or stumps. Volunteer groups tend to like to stay together, so coming up with something that one group can do as a whole is always a good idea.
Getting volunteers out on a regular basis is a real challenge, and we have had workdays where about ten people showed up. You have to be constantly looking for more sources of workers, like other churches, school groups, friends and neighbors. We have at least two local civic associations that forward their membership my emails about upcoming workdays, so invariably there will be a new volunteer who heard about us from one of these sources. Once someone like that shows up, you want to get their email address added to your list immediately.
Finally, the workday should be fun. We are all volunteers and some of this work is tiring, dirty work, so you need to set a reasonable pace, and have plenty of water and refreshments. A neighboring business has cooked out for us as a nice reward for our group. Some days you have a big group and other days not so much, but every bit helps and you can’t let yourself get discouraged. One thing to be on the lookout for is a volunteer who has special talents and may be able to come out on his/her own time and do specific tasks – or someone who simply can’t come on Saturday mornings but would be willing to come out some other time if you can identify specific tasks.
Can you give us a sense of the number of people you’ve had come out and the sorts of projects you did?
Of course! We’ve kept good track. Below are workdays we have had in 2014:
2/8/14 – 23 people/3 hours/Privet removal
3/8/14 – 15 people/3 hours/Privet removal
3/30/14 – 37 people/3 hours/work on new trail
4/6/14 – 33 people/3 hours/complete trail construction
4/12/14 – 23 people/2 hours/Privet removal & planting
5/10/14 – 25 people/3 hours/work near entrance on LaVista
6/14/14 – 39 people/3 hours/privet removal and planting
10/12/14 – 10 people/3 hours/planting trees and bulbs
10/26/14 – 25 people/3 hours/spread mulch and removed stumps
11/2/14 – 31 people/3 hours/removed privet
11/8/14 – 26 people/3 hours/planting trees
12/13/14 – 14 people/3 hours/ clean up
Thank you, Tom, for speaking with us and sharing your secrets, and thanks to all members of the Friends of Frazier-Rowe Park and all of the community volunteers who have helped shape this greenspace!
Visit the Friends of Frazier-Rowe Park website and join their email list to find out about workdays! Email Tom at Tombranch@mindspring.com.