By Jeff Tome, Public Engagement Specialist
My wife started practicing a daily gratitude meditation a while back, and it’s something that really made me stop and think about the world. There are so many things that make her gratitude list that are easy to take for granted: hot showers, safe sidewalks to walk the dog, an extra long raspberry season and more.
It’s hard to work at a non-profit and not feel gratitude and thankfulness. There are so many volunteers and community members and other organizations that support the Nature Center. Once you have been at Audubon for awhile, I don’t think there are many places on the grounds that you can go without feeling thankful.
I have been writing this article in my head for weeks now, trying to wrap my head around all the things to be thankful for at Audubon. The one thing that stood out as I tried to start the article is that the story of ACNC is a story of community, of volunteers, and exceptionally dedicated staff. There is no way to mention one group of passionate volunteers without leaving out a group of equally passionate volunteers that work hard in another capacity.
My first thought was to write about everything that volunteers or foundations or businesses had a hand in, things they physically touched to make ACNC a better place. I ran into the same problem. There are few parts of the buildings or trails that have not been made better because of the dedicated support of the community.
The grass? Mowed by a volunteer on a mower that was funded by a foundation. The gardens? Planted, weeded, and maintained by volunteers with funding for improvements made by many. The buildings? Built with the support of a community that wanted to see ACNC grow, and often repaired and maintained by volunteers.
The word “volunteer” isn’t really enough, though. They are more like a crazy big extended family that is there when you need them. These are the people I call when I need someone to dress up as a Spring Peeper and act for 250 visitors or when I need someone to make a giant Bigfoot silhouette to put on the trail and backlight. They are the people that help make wreaths and pies and crafts and exhibits. There are a lot of odd things that come up, and I am incredibly grateful that there is a crew of people we can depend on to make creative things happen.
Audubon’s volunteers are the backbone of the Nature Center. They mow, trim, build, garden, enter data, sell food, feed animals, mail newsletters, do crafts, create, teach and make policy. As a group, they work almost as many hours as the staff does.
My original intention with this article was to take you on a virtual walk through the Nature Center, but who would I call out? The volunteer receptionist? The windows cleaned by folks from the Resource Center? The store renovations done by volunteers? The drinking fountain made possible by a local foundation? The animal habitats that were built and are maintained by volunteers – who also feed and care for the animals? The entire Nature Center, dreamed of by a committee and built and created with community support?
Now you see my problem, and the problem with a gratitude meditation at Audubon. There is simply too much to be grateful for. There are new birds of prey and new aviaries, a new pavilion, new exhibits, renovated rooms and new gardens. Milkweed was planted in many new garden beds, which has made it much easier for me to raise butterflies for the Monarch Butterfly Festival. The list goes on and on.
I started working at Audubon in 1996, and the years and projects have gone by in a blur. My memory of when things happened is infamously inaccurate. That said, many volunteers have come and gone over the years, but many have also been volunteering at Audubon longer than I have been working there. Some have been doing things with Audubon for decades. Every project, every bit of data entered, every weed pulled, every newsletter mailed and every child who was helped with a craft has made this place a little bit better. Those projects and improvements are too numerous to mention.
All that said, Audubon is also blessed with generosity. The community, the foundations, the businesses and individuals that make projects possible are too many and too varied to list and, frankly, I would forget someone. Know this, though. Like a good ecosystem, the support for Audubon is diverse and every component is important and valued.
Honestly, if you have read all the way through to this point, I am grateful to you as well. It’s been a hard slog to get to the end of all my gratitude and I am not sure the time spent was worth it. I am in the horrible bind of there being a mountain’s worth of gratitude and only a molehills worth of words to express it. I am grateful for the newspapers that publish these articles, and also for the limits they put on the space I have available, or I would keep writing and writing.
My wife’s gratitude meditation has made me pay more attention to the things I am grateful for. I think gratitude is a good practice, both for people and for businesses and organizations. Take a moment this Thanksgiving season and look at all there is to be thankful for, from hot showers to volunteers that dress up as animals to the amazing natural world that surrounds us.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk and birds of prey can be viewed anytime the trails are open. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.