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19 Feb
By: Communications 0

Volunteering in Precinct 4: How and Why to Give Back to the Community

By Kaci Woodrome

Donating time is one of the most precious gifts to anyone or any organization. But when it comes to volunteering, the options can seem endless and overwhelming, especially for a heavily populated area like Harris County that has so many nonprofits needing help from the community. Because the choices are difficult to navigate, it’s often easier to just stay at home.

“You can Google ‘volunteer opportunities’, but where do you begin?” said Gema Barrera, volunteer coordinator for the Precinct 4 Encore! program.

The choice to volunteer is an important one, but many people are unsure of how to get involved and stay involved. Precinct 4 volunteer coordinators simplify the process by assisting with the volunteer job selection and finding opportunities that match interests and abilities.

For anyone over the age of 50, Encore! organizes opportunities throughout Harris County, from the Peanut Butter Cannery and the Houston Food Bank to Northwest Assistance Ministries, Kids Meals, Project C.U.R.E., and more.

“We are definitely expanding,” Barrera said. “A new location we visit is Cypress Assistance Ministries.”

Encore! staff and volunteers also visit senior living locations every month to bring residents a craft activity, games, and entertainment from the 4-Star Stampede Line Dancers.

Volunteers must be 50 and older and can meet at the volunteer destinations or travel on a Precinct 4 bus.

“When we were at the Peanut Butter Cannery just a few months ago, we helped package 6,000 jars, and we only had 15 people volunteer that day,” said Barrera. “Just imagine what we could’ve done if we had more volunteers.”

A lot of newly retired folks are looking for ways to give back to the community and enjoy the camaraderie of volunteering with new friends. “A lot of times they’re ready to retire, but not ready to sit at home and do nothing,” said Barrera.

Barrera makes accommodations for those with physical limitations so they can join the group too.

“I’ll ask for a chair or stool so they can sit and help, or I’ll bring the things to the table so they can participate,” said Barrera. “What are you able to do? We will find something for you!”

According to Gwendolyn Coats, a retiree who enjoys volunteering in the greenhouses at Mercer Botanic Gardens, there’s an easy way to find the right volunteer focus.

“If you’re going to volunteer, do something that you like,” said Coats. “Don’t just volunteer to volunteer – you won’t be happy with it long. Do something that really interests you.”

“The plants are therapeutic for me,” said Coats, who has enjoyed spending two days a week in the Mercer greenhouses since becoming a volunteer in March 2019.

She was recognized as the “Newcomer of the Year” at Mercer’s annual volunteer appreciation luncheon for contributing more than 200 hours in 2019 – an accomplishment that proves she truly loves volunteering there.

“I’m retired now. I don’t want to go work on a job. I just want to help and give back to the community,” Coats said.

The impact of volunteering is not always immediate, and it can be challenging to recognize how contributions make a lasting impact.

For example, the plants grown at Mercer’s greenhouses are sold through plant sales hosted by The Mercer Society. The proceeds then go back into the gardens for children’s activities, educational programming, and innovative research for plant conservation.

For some, like Donna and Phillip Ellison, volunteering at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center is important so they can help pass along the traditions of Texas and American history while creating a legacy of service for their family.

“We enjoy being outdoors, we enjoy service, we enjoy sharing our knowledge and teaching,” said Donna Ellison. “We’ve passed that on to our girls, so for an activity at Jones Park like Pioneer Day, it spoke to all of our interests and our gifts and our available time.”

When the family first visited Pioneer Day at Jones Park in 2004, their daughters enjoyed dressing up in the event’s pioneer clothing so much that it inspired the Ellisons to sign up as volunteers at the park.

As the Ellison family grew, the pastime of volunteering continued. Sharing the value of service with their children while getting to play at the same time was one of the most attractive qualities of Jones Park. Over the past 15 years, all seven family members have volunteered together at Jones Park whenever possible.

“The rangers are so kind to everyone, and they really treat the kids as full-fledged volunteers,” said Donna Ellison. “When they go to work at a station and help demonstrate, they are equal volunteers whether they’re 8 or 10 years old or whether they’re an adult.”

Jones Park also welcomes volunteers interested in helping with trail maintenance or invasive species removal, arts and crafts, or preparation for its many events and programs.

What motivates volunteers to action? According to Phillip Ellison, it’s “the whole idea of being tied to something and contributing to something and being part of the community.”

Precinct 4 is always seeking new volunteers and extra hands to help. Whether it’s meeting new people, learning new skills, educating others, or working together as family, Precinct 4 has plenty of meaningful volunteer opportunities to turn the valuable gift of time into a labor of love.

 

HOW TO VOLUNTEER

Precinct 4 provides volunteer opportunities at a variety of special events throughout the year, as well as at tree planting and invasive plant removal events along the Spring Creek Greenway.

To learn more about volunteering at any Precinct 4 park or event, please contact the volunteer coordinators and staff listed below.

Precinct 4 Encore!: Gema Barrera
713-274-4050
Special Events: Amy Sutton
713-274-4444
specialevents@hcp4.net
Mercer Botanic Gardens: Jamie Hartwell
713-274-4160
jhartwell@hcp4.net
Jones Park: Brent Wilkins
281-446-8588
bwilkins@hcp4.net
Legacy Trees Program: Laura Medick
713-274-4173
legacytrees@hcp4.net
18 Feb
By: Communications 0

Volunteer Grants and Matching Gifts

By Christy Jones

You don’t have to be wealthy to contribute thousands to your favorite nonprofit. Volunteers at Mercer Botanic Gardens have raised nearly $30,000 over the past few years through company and nonprofit gift matching programs.

“Volunteer grants support Mercer Botanic Gardens and the Mercer Botanical Center in a phenomenal way,” said Suzzanne Chapman, the botanical collections curator. “While volunteers provide the gift of time, they can also earn important funding to help us improve the gardens. Many Mercer volunteers have participated in these programs for more than 20 years.”

Through the ExxonMobil Foundation Cultural Matching Gift Program, volunteers Helen Dowling and Ellen Alfar have earned thousands of dollars for Mercer. These funds have been used to conserve rare and endangered plants and preserve the herbarium and library collections at the botanical center.

To qualify for funding, volunteers must be an ExxonMobil retiree or the spouse of a retiree. Eligible volunteers can earn a $500 grant for the nonprofit of their choice by completing at least 20 volunteer hours per quarter.

Mercer volunteer Barbara Davidson is a longtime participant in ExxonMobil’s program. Davidson has been volunteering since her retirement from the company more than 15 years ago. She grew up in the area and has fond childhood memories of camping and swimming with her family along both Cypress and Spring creeks.

“My favorite volunteer activities always include working with children because it brings joy to my heart to see young children in the garden,” she said. “It was also rewarding to help rebuild after Hurricane Harvey’s floods. Just seeing the difference we made reinforced my belief in the importance of volunteering.”

Companies such as Home Depot and General Electric also provide opportunities for nonprofits. To see if your company offers a matching gift or grant program, contact your employer’s human resource office or community giving department or visit your company’s website.

Companies aren’t the only organizations offering gift matching programs.

“Volunteers also commit monetary support through affiliate groups,” said Chapman. “The Knowles Family and the Houston Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas provide funding for internships in honor of Dr. Larry Brown.”

Most recently, the Heartwood Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists and the Gibson family made donations in support of botanical internships at the Mercer Botanical Center. The additional funding has allowed Mercer to fully sponsor Texas windmill grass (Chloris texensis), one of the rare plants found at Precinct 4’s Prairie Dawn Preserve.

Mercer volunteers are encouraged to see if their volunteer hours contribute towards extra gifts for the gardens and botanical center. For more information, contact the volunteer coordinator at jhartwell@hcp4.net.

14 Feb
By: Communications 0

Volunteer Spotlight: National Charity League

Serving the community brings a special kind of excitement to the hearts of many, especially when it’s alongside those you love.

That appeal is what drives many mothers and daughters to join the National Charity League, a volunteer organization created especially for mothers and their school-age daughters.

Although NCL chapters are active across the nation, their service at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center has proven especially beneficial. Darlene Conley, the director at Jones Park, said the participation of the Kings Trails, Kingwood, Livable Forest, and Lake Houston chapters of NCL has played an integral role in the success of many park events and programs.

“Their value is tremendous,” said Conley. “We would not be able to offer the same amount of great programming that we provide if not for their assistance.”

Maddie Dunleavy and her mother, Nora Dunleavy, have been members of the Kings Trails Chapter of NCL since 2014, when Maddie was a sixth grader. Volunteering together at Jones Park has been a special bonding experience for them and a way for them to spend time together in nature.

“I love volunteering at Jones Park because it was a place I loved to be when I was younger,” said Maddie, a senior at Kingwood High School. “I looked forward to going there, and it brought me so much joy. So it’s really nice to be able to give that same joy back to others through volunteering.”

Nora, who loves the outdoors, has truly enjoyed her experience volunteering with her daughter and watching her daughter’s love for nature and service grow.

“I’ve seen Maddie grow over the years, and her experience at Jones Park has helped her decide on an area of study,” Nora said of her daughter’s plans to go into marine biology. “Just being outside and in nature studying the plants and animals has really helped her to know what she wants to do.”

Throughout their years of service with NCL, the Dunleavys have served as camp counselors for Summer Nature Camp and participated in several of Jones Park’s featured events, including Old Fashioned Christmas, Homestead Heritage Day, and Tricks and Treats Among the Trees.

Maddie said those experiences will stay with her forever.

“This past summer, I volunteered as a counselor for Summer Nature Camp,” she said. “A younger girl in my group remembered me from being her camp counselor four years ago, the first year I was a counselor. It was great to see that I was able to make an impact on someone.”

Maddie will graduate from high school this year, which will make her an NCL alumna. But Nora will continue the tradition of serving at Jones Park with her son, Joseph Dunleavy, through the Young Men’s Service League, which provides philanthropic opportunities for mothers and their teenage sons.

Judith Lewis, the vice president of philanthropy for the NCL Lake Houston Chapter, said one of the primary goals of the organization is to provide new experiences for young women so they can explore a variety of careers, and Jones Park plays a huge role in achieving that goal.

“As mothers, we hope that when they are doing an activity, it will stay with them, and they’ll reflect on it,” she said. “To think about becoming a forest ranger or doing something environmental. That’s how Jones Park helps our girls become something that’s important to them.”

The mutual admiration Jones Park and NCL share only strengthens their bond.

“We know that when we volunteer at Jones Park, it’s appreciated, and they have shown to us that we are appreciated by the way we’re treated,” said Lewis.

Area NCL chapters will participate in upcoming events at Jones Park events, including NatureFest. The organization continues to look forward to serving the park and its many endeavors in the Precinct 4 area.

For more information on how mothers and daughters can join the National Charity League, please visit .

To volunteer at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature, visit https://www.hcp4.net/parks/jjp/volunteer or call 281-446-8588.

19 Dec
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Volunteer Meet & Greet

Interested in volunteering? Stop by the Nature Center for a casual gathering with staff and volunteers Learn about the variety of rewarding park volunteer opportunities. New volunteers welcome! Ages 16+.


07 Aug
By: Communications 0

Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Second Sunday Pickers’ Bill Hunn

Few scenarios test the skills of a musician like a public jam session. Unlike reading music, jam sessions require players to improvise while keeping time and tune with others. When players work well together, the experience can be transcendent.

“Playing with other people teaches musicians to keep time,” said Bill Hunn, the volunteer leader of the Second Sunday Pickers. “You either keep up or get left behind.”

Hunn has spent nearly 30 years leading public jam sessions at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center. In that time, he’s met both novice and expert musicians looking to refine their skills.

“Various musicians have participated through the years, including a cellist,” said Hunn. “I’ve always hoped a flute player would join us.”

Hunn understands better than most the joy of a good jam session with close friends and family.

The son of a musician, Hunn grew up in suburban Philadelphia listening to his father play the piano, accordion, and guitar. In the evenings, his family sat around a campfire near the Chesapeake Bay playing music. Hunn’s father attended German and Polish clubs to learn how to play the music of different cultures. He even organized square dances in the room above their garage. As a treat, Hunn’s family visited the community theater to see local musical performances like Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore.

Despite his early exposure to music, Hunn didn’t develop an interest in playing the guitar until he was 20 years old. Once he learned a few songs, his friends invited him to attend the Philadelphia Folk Festival, a three-day outdoor musical festival. They spent the weekend wandering from campsite to campsite, meeting festival-goers, and playing the same three songs until Hunn grew sick of them. That’s when he decided to learn 10 new songs before next year’s festival. He challenged himself with that same goal every year for 23 years, and now he can play hundreds of songs by memory.

Hunn moved to the Houston area with his wife and 2-year-old daughter in February 1990. Soon after, they visited Old Town Spring on a shopping expedition. Bored with shopping, Hunn spotted a group of musicians playing in the courtyard and decided to pick up a guitar and join them.

It turned out the group of musicians was led by Louise Auclair, a music professor at North Harris Community College (now Lone Star College-North Harris) who encouraged her students to join a jam session to hone their skills. Hunn immediately became a regular at their monthly meetings.

When news of the group spread, Jones Park invited the musicians to host their monthly sessions at the Nature Center in fall 1990, marking the beginning of the Second Sunday Pickers jam sessions.

Although the group’s leadership has changed over the years, the Second Sunday Pickers remains one of the park’s longest-running programs. Even when the Nature Center was temporarily closed following the 1994 flood and Hurricane Harvey, Second Sunday Pickers played on, meeting on the porch or on the outdoor stage.

Sessions are open to musicians of all abilities at the Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center. Musicians are welcome to bring their instruments and play along on the second Sunday of every month.

21 Jun
By: Communications 0

Volunteer Spotlight: Howard Rose

For Howard Rose, there’s nothing better than being outside. When most Harris County residents are blasting air conditioners during the hottest part of the summer, Rose is outdoors working with children as a Summer Nature Camp counselor.

“Being outside is just so much fun!” said Rose. “I love the outdoors and want the kids to be interested in that too.”

But what the children don’t know about Rose is that, before becoming a Summer Nature Camp volunteer, he enjoyed a distinguished career as a soldier, prosecutor, and ultimately a federal judge.

Like his father, Rose began his military career in Army Infantry School before serving in Germany and Vietnam. Following military service, Rose attended law school at Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, which led to a legal career as a prosecutor. The position took Rose to Guam, Miami, and finally Houston, where he was named special assistant U. S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas. Although Rose speaks humbly of his work, he was involved in prosecuting some of the world’s most infamous criminals, including an al-Qaeda member involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Rose and his wife, Beverly Rose, moved to Kingwood with their three sons in 1987 and started visiting Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center shortly thereafter. As a perpetual student of history, Rose was captivated by a battle re-enactment at Pioneer Day. After speaking with historical re-enactor Tom Whitesides, Rose decided to become a Civil War and Texas Army re-enactor and to join the Jesse Jones Park Volunteers.

In addition to his volunteer work as a historical demonstrator at the Redbud Hill Homestead, Rose also has trained as a nature tour guide and junior canoeing instructor. Rose especially enjoys volunteering at the park’s Texas Bound day camp and leading 10- to 12-year-olds at Summer Nature Camp. He looks forward to taking campers on canoe trips every year, an activity that reminds him of his own childhood. As a child growing up in Erie, Pa., Rose participated in the YMCA camp canoeing program.

One year, they traveled to the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York and canoed the Fulton Chain of Lakes. When he was 18, the campers traveled to Ontario for a three-week canoe trip through Algonquin Provincial Park. Rose fondly remembers drinking water straight from the rivers and lakes and tells stories of a friend who mistakenly used a leaf of poison oak for toilet paper.

“We ran out of food on that trip,” he said with a laugh. “All of us lost weight!”

You can catch Rose volunteering as a counselor again this year at Summer Nature Camp: True Texas Natives.

“I’m looking forward to camp again this summer, especially with the Native American focus,” he said.

For more information about volunteering, visit www.hcp4.net/parks/jjp/volunteer/.

 

 

15 May
By: Communications 0

Volunteer Spotlight: Howard Rose

For Howard Rose, there’s nothing better than being outside. When most Harris County residents are blasting air conditioners during the hottest part of the summer, Rose is outdoors working with children as a Summer Nature Camp counselor.

“Being outside is just so much fun!” said Rose. “I love the outdoors and want the kids to be interested in that too.”

But what the children don’t know about Rose is that, before becoming a Summer Nature Camp volunteer, he enjoyed a distinguished career as a soldier, prosecutor, and ultimately a federal judge.

Like his father, Rose began his military career in Army Infantry School before serving in Germany and Vietnam. Following military service, Rose attended law school at Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, which led to a legal career as a prosecutor. The position took Rose to Guam, Miami, and finally Houston, where he was named special assistant U. S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas. Although Rose speaks humbly of his work, he was involved in prosecuting some of the world’s most infamous criminals, including an al-Qaeda member involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Rose and his wife, Beverly Rose, moved to Kingwood with their three sons in 1987 and started visiting Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center shortly thereafter. As a perpetual student of history, Rose was captivated by a battle re-enactment at Pioneer Day. After speaking with historical re-enactor Tom Whitesides, Rose decided to become a Civil War and Texas Army re-enactor and to join the Jesse Jones Park Volunteers.

In addition to his volunteer work as a historical demonstrator at the Redbud Hill Homestead, Rose also has trained as a nature tour guide and junior canoeing instructor. Rose especially enjoys volunteering at the park’s Texas Bound day camp and leading 10- to 12-year-olds at Summer Nature Camp. He looks forward to taking campers on canoe trips every year, an activity that reminds him of his own childhood. As a child growing up in Erie, Pa., Rose participated in the YMCA camp canoeing program. One year, they traveled to the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York and canoed the Fulton Chain of Lakes. When he was 18, the campers traveled to Ontario for a three-week canoe trip through Algonquin Provincial Park. Rose fondly remembers drinking water straight from the rivers and lakes and tells stories of a friend who mistakenly used a leaf of poison oak for toilet paper.

“We ran out of food on that trip,” he said with a laugh. “All of us lost weight!”

You can catch Rose volunteering as a counselor again this year at Summer Nature Camp: True Texas Natives.

“I’m looking forward to camp again this summer, especially with the Native American focus,” he said.

08 May
By: Communications 0

Volunteer Spotlight: Amy Conroy, Mom, Artist, and Gardener

Ask Amy Conroy what she enjoys doing most and she will tell you spending time with her children is her favorite pastime. Her other passionate pursuits, art and gardening, are tied for a close second. As a Trees and Shrubs volunteer at Mercer Botanic Gardens, Amy relishes both.

Read below to learn how she balances family, work, and play, and where she gets her inspiration.

Q & A

How did you get started at Mercer?

When I decided to stay at home to raise my children, I took that opportunity to pursue passions I had put on the back burner while working in the professional world. I enrolled in the Texas Gulf Coast Gardener series of classes at Mercer Botanic Gardens. Suzzanne Chapman, then Mercer’s volunteer coordinator, came to our class to discuss the volunteer opportunities at Mercer. By the end of the final session, I decided to volunteer at Mercer on the same day that I had been going to classes. It happened to be on Thursdays, the same day the Trees and Shrubs committee meets. It was a good fit since one of my favorite categories of plants is small ornamental trees.

What do you do at Mercer?

I have been a volunteer in Trees and Shrubs for about four or five years now. I enjoy the interaction with other plant lovers and the exchange of ideas on the selection of plants. Helping to find and care for new and unusual plants has been exciting and fun!

How has serving at Mercer inspired your love for art?

Many years ago, my mother-in-law shared an article in American Artist about a watercolorist who used her garden as inspiration for her art. I thought, “I want to do that!” As a volunteer in Trees and Shrubs, I am exposed to many unusual varieties of plants. By researching and caring for these plants, I derive inspiration and ideas for the subject matter for my art. Many of the plants at March Mart are now in my garden and on my canvases. As a member of Lake Houston Area Artists, I also participate in art shows twice a year. The entry rules regarding the originality of art work are very strict. An easy way to guarantee that the image is solely mine is to grow my own subject matter in my garden, so that is what I do!

Where is your artwork showcased and is any for sale?

I have sold a few originals and have done one commission piece for a client who saw my work on display at a specialty garden center. I have work on display at the Kingwood Library and at Dr. Nunnery’s office in Kingwood, along with art from other members from Lake Houston Area Artists.

We appreciate your volunteering at Mercer and March Mart. What would you say to someone interested in volunteering at Mercer?

I really enjoy volunteering at March Mart and Mercer’s other sales because it is rewarding to assist customers with their landscaping ideas. Finding just the right tree or shrub that will meet their needs is very satisfying, for them and for me. It has greatly expanded my own personal knowledge of plants and gardening. It’s fun talking plants with customers and other volunteers.

22 Mar
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Volunteer Day

Join KMP staff for this month’s volunteer activity. Long pants and closed-toed shoes are recommended. Ages 10+. Participants under 18 years of age must be accompanied by an adult. Meet near Preserve restrooms for all activities unless otherwise noted.

28 Feb
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Volunteer Day

 Join KMP staff for this month’s volunteer activity. Long pants and closed-toed shoes are required. Ages 10+. Participants under 18 years of age must be accompanied by an adult.