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30 Nov
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Volunteer

Fun4Seniors recognizes the important role of volunteers in providing a quality experience to thousands of participants each year. Fun4Seniors offers a wide variety of ongoing programs and events such as bridge tournaments, dances, discount tickets and transportation to sporting venues, fine art performances, museums, festivals, and special attractions in and around the greater Houston area.

09 Nov
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Volunteer

Without the support and commitment of hundreds of volunteers and businesses, Precinct 4’s community centers could not achieve the level of outreach and assistance they provide the community.

Whether it is your time, financial contribution, or a donation of items for holiday gift bags, school supplies, or other programs, Precinct 4’s community centers need your help to keep up with the growing demand to provide services to the community!

In Precinct 4, every volunteer opportunity pursued enriches lives and strengthens communities.

Volunteer Opportunities

Holiday Gifts and Parties

Precinct 4’s Mangum-Howell Center hosts annual holiday parties for at-risk children and children in need, complete with holiday craft projects, refreshments, visits with Santa, and more. Through a $20 donation, the SNAPP (Students Needing a Pat and Push) parties help spread holiday cheer to children in Aldine ISD elementary schools.

In addition to holiday parties, Mangum-Howell Center opens their doors to the community to enjoy the holiday sights, sounds, and delights direct from the North Pole during “Santa’s Workshop,” where families can enjoy beautiful decorations, a variety of interactive activties, and visit with Santa Claus.

Mangum-Howell Center also hosts a Holiday Food Drive to benefit those in need during the holidays.

School Supplies Drive

The Back to School Drive at Mangum-Howell Center provides children and families in need with necessary school supplies, which encourages local students to excel.

Seasonal Festivals, Fundraisers, and Special Programs

The nonprofit advisory council at Mangum-Howell Center is key to providing funds that support the many special events and programs offered annually, including the Mangum-Howell Festival and Bunny Hop Roundup.

Fun4Kids Summer Programs

Each June and July, Mangum-Howell Center offers interactive educational and recreational programs for area children. Everything from theater groups to magicians to crafts and games are offered during these weekly programs.

07 Nov
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Volunteer

Since opening to the public in 1974, Mercer has flourished from a strong volunteer base.

Volunteers help with all aspects of the gardens. Choose from a variety of exciting positions, including garden assistant, administrative assistant, garden docent, financial specialist, collection curator, or special event planner.

From building benches and propagating plants to organizing March Mart, the largest plant sale fundraiser in Southeast Texas, there is a variety of fun and interesting volunteer opportunities.

Mercer’s volunteers include plant and nature enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels including community groups, corporations, Master Gardeners, Texas Gulf Coast Gardeners, and many more.

For more information, please contact our volunteer coordinator at 713-274-4160.

Volunteer Benefits

The volunteer coordinator matches the applicant’s interests and talents to exciting volunteer opportunities. New volunteers receive excellent job training, including tours of Mercer’s facilities and gardens. Refresher training sessions are also available for experienced volunteers.

Mercer offers job diversity. From digging in the dirt, to educating people, to working on the computer, there is something for everyone at Mercer. Become a garden assistant, trail guide, administrative assistant, financial specialist, collection curator, special event planner, or any of the over 25 different positions. Volunteers also enjoy flexible work hours and a range of commitment levels.

Mercer provides volunteer appreciation events during National Volunteer Week in April, an annual picnic the last Wednesday in October, field trips, ongoing training, and a subscription to The Leaflet, a quarterly e-newsletter highlighting gardening news and information.

26 Sep
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Volunteer

Volunteers fill a number of roles at Jones Park, from giving children a fun learning experience about nature or Texas history to sharing their talents behind the scenes. If you enjoy the outdoors, like working with people, or have a special skill, consider becoming a Jesse Jones Park Volunteer (JJPV)! Training is provided as needed and no previous experience is necessary.

Volunteer Goals:

Volunteers support Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center by recruiting and training volunteers, educating children and the public in natural and pioneer history, maintaining and constructing park trails and facilities, raising funds to help support the programs and development of the park, and assisting park staff in the operations of the park. For more information, view the JJPV Bylaws.

Volunteer Opportunities:

Jones Park utilizes hundreds of volunteers to deliver great community events like: Second Saturday Settlers, Homestead Heritage Day, Summer Nature Camp, Tricks and Treats Among the Trees, Pioneer Day, and An Old-Fashioned Christmas. Whether you like nature, history, or teaching children, we have a volunteer opportunity for you!

To volunteer, contact the Jones Park Volunteer Coordinator by phone at 281-446-8588 or by email at jjp@hcp4.net.

Sponsorship

All of the tours, field trips, programs, and festivals offered at Jones Park are free of charge. This is possible through community support and volunteers. To help expand and continue the level of free programming at Jones Park, experts, professionals, and teachers who specialize in natural science, conservation, and Texas history-related fields are invited to assist with or present lectures, tours, and workshops.

From behind-the-scenes assistance to tour guides, demonstrators, and historians at festivals, volunteers are utilized in almost every imaginable aspect of the park’s operations. Smaller groups interested in becoming involved at the park are encouraged to volunteer together.

Another important factor that allows Jones Park to offer free programming is monetary sponsorships through the Jesse Jones Park Volunteers (JJPV). Sponsors can support the park by funding theatrical, musical, and stage performances, contest awards and give-aways for the Volunteer Appreciation Party, Fishing Derby, Photo Contest, Tricks and Treats Among the Trees, and An Old-Fashioned Christmas.

Businesses, groups, and organizations that are interested in making visible, in-kind contributions can participate in the Adopt-A-Trail program, or other conservation projects.

Consider supporting Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center by volunteering!

Homestead and Nature Tour Guides
Tuesdays and Thursday mornings, as needed

Conservation Connections
Wednesdays at 8:30 a.m.

Invasives Beware!
Saturday, March 16, April 20, May 18, and June 15 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Office Assistants
Saturdays and Sundays, February 24, March 24, and April 7, at 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Tadpoles Club
Wednesdays in March and May at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Second Saturday Settlers

Blacksmithing: Saturday, March 9, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Natural Dyes: Saturday, April 13, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Ladies Day: Saturday, May 11, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Woodworking: Saturday, June 8, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

NatureFest
Saturday, March 2, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Spring BreakOut

Snakes of Harris County: Monday, March 11, at 10 a.m.
Junior Angler: Tuesday, March 12, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Texas Bound: Wednesday, March 13, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Junior Canoe Training: Thursday, March 14, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Canoe Spring Creek
Saturday, March 23, and Sunday, March 24, at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

BioBlitz
Saturday, April 6, at 8 a.m.

Earth Day Clean Up (Special Invasives Beware!)
Saturday, April 20, from 9 to 11 a.m.

Easter Games
Saturday, April 20, from 10 a.m. to noon

Family Fish Camp
Saturday, April 27, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Summer Nature Camp Registration
Saturday, May 4, at 8 a.m.

Creek Bash
Saturday, June 1, at 9 a.m.

Summer Nature Camp
June 3 – August 2: Counselors needed for one-week commitments

Volunteer Job Descriptions

Adopt-A-Trail Program

Remove invasive, non-native plants and conduct routine trail maintenance. This is a great conservation project for groups of all sizes and types. Requires a minimum one-year commitment of 4-hour work sessions every three months.

Annual Events

A large number of volunteers are utilized to successfully host our annual festivals and special events:

Arbor Day (January)
Homestead Heritage Day (February)
NatureFest (March)
Summer Nature Camp (June through July)
Tricks & Treats (October)
Pioneer Day (November)
An Old-Fashioned Christmas (December).

Arts and Crafts Projects

Assist with craft preparations for children’s programs. Decorate for festivals. Create period-correct items offered for sale by the JJPV during Jones Park events. (Proceeds from sales benefit the park.) Can be performed in the Nature Center conference room or at home at your convenience.

Building Maintenance / Construction

Assist in the development and maintenance of park facilities, including the Redbud Hill Homestead and Akokisa Indian Village. Construction experience and handyman skills are a plus for maintaining pioneer structures.

Costume Guild

Sew, mend, launder, and inventory period-correct garments used in re-enactments and stored in the costume closet. Research historical dress and accessories.

Food Service

Work with concessions or indoor kitchen meal preparation at park festivals. Demonstrate cast iron outdoor cooking staged during homestead events.

Fundraising/Grants

Solicit donations from area businesses for park and volunteer programs. Research and write grant applications to support park projects.

Homestead Tour Guide

Lead school-aged children, scouts, and other groups on interpretive tours of the Redbud Hill Homestead and the Akokisa Indian Village. Homestead Tour Guides are needed Tuesday and Thursday mornings during the school year.

Horticultural Aide

Assist with the care of landscaped grounds, homestead garden, and greenhouse by replanting areas of the park with native vegetation, seeding wildflowers, potting plants, watering, pruning, and weeding. Horticultural Aides are invited to participate in Conservation Connections every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m.

Jr. Canoe Training

Assist staff with teaching 10-15-year-olds water safety and canoeing skills. This program is a one-day commitment and is held periodically during the spring and summer months.

Living History Demonstrator

Demonstrate everyday life in an 1830s east Texas homestead or Akokisa Indian Village while wearing period-correct clothing (available in the costume closet) and using authentic tools. Volunteers demonstrate activities such as: archery, blacksmithing, cooking, gardening, hide tanning, woodworking, spinning, and weaving. Living History Demonstrators are needed for Second Saturday Settlers (SSS), Homestead Heritage Day, and Pioneer Day. No prior experience is necessary; just an interest in the life of Texas inhabitants in the 1830s. Training will be provided.

Nature Tour Guide

Lead school-aged children, scouts, or other groups on a one-half- to one-mile interpretive walk on the park’s nature trails. Point out interesting natural features such as the cypress ponds, native plants, birds, and animal signs. Nature Tour Guides are needed Tuesday and Thursday mornings during the school year.

Office Aide

Greet Nature Center visitors while providing them with park information, maps, and program schedules. Answer the phone and assist staff with craft preparation and record keeping. Office aides are needed primarily on weekends.

Outreach

Represent Jones Park at environmental, educational, and community fairs. Set up displays, distribute park information, answer questions, and help extend the reach of park staff. Outreach events are primarily on weekends.

Summer Nature Camp Counselor

Provide a friendly, helpful presence while the children to learn about nature. Supervise a group of 6-7 children (ages 5-6, 7-9, or 10-12 years old). Participate, help, and encourage the campers in activities, games, and crafts presented by the park ranger. Counselors are needed from June to the first week of August. Each camp is a one-week commitment.

Volunteer Frequently Asked Question's

How do you become a Jones Park volunteer? What steps are involved?

Those who want to volunteer at Jones Park express their interest to us in many ways – in person, online via the park’s website or other volunteer recruitment websites, or through the many service organizations that support the park. To make it quick and easy to join our volunteer program, the Jesse Jones Park Volunteers (JJPV), we have streamlined our application process to just a few simple steps.

The first step is to complete the online application found on the park’s website. This only takes a few minutes. We use information from the application to determine the next step in the application process, as well as to gain an understanding of which volunteer activities the applicant might be interested in pursuing.

Since our volunteers often work with children, we require adult applicants and the parents/guardians of youth applicants to complete a background screening. This is the second step in the application process. The park covers the cost of the screening, and results are usually back within about a week.

For those under 18, we require a parental consent form. Applicants under 16 must be accompanied by an adult while volunteering at the park. Many families appreciate volunteering together and have come to enjoy the many benefits.

In addition to our need for regular JJPV members, we also have volunteer opportunities for individuals seeking to earn service hours. This includes those needing to complete hours for one of our partner service organizations, such as National Honor Society, National Charity League, and Scouts BSA, or for corporate groups that want to perform a day of service at the park. Anyone who wants to volunteer as a group should have their group leader contact the park to coordinate a service date.

For those interested in getting to know our volunteers and learning about the JJPV, please attend our monthly volunteer program and meeting. Meetings are held on the last Monday of each month at 7 p.m. (except for July, August, and December, or if the date falls on a holiday), and include refreshments and a guest presenter. For more information, please visit the volunteer section of the Jones Park website or sign up to receive our quarterly volunteer newsletter, Cypress Log.

What should people consider before becoming a Jones Park volunteer?

Some things to consider before becoming a volunteer at Jones Park:

  • What is your term commitment? Are you interested in volunteering on a regular basis, or are you looking for a one-time volunteer opportunity?
  • Which volunteer activities at the park relate to your knowledge, skills, and abilities? Are you open to trying out new activities, and are there any tasks that you are not able or willing to do?
  • When are you available to volunteer? Can you volunteer during the week, on weekends, or on school breaks?
  • Most importantly, why do you want to volunteer at Jones Park? Are you passionate about the park’s mission, wanting to develop professional skills, or are you needing hours for your service organization?

What can volunteers expect on their first day?

Depending on the activities in which volunteers choose to participate, the first day can be quite different. If you are helping at one of our events, you may receive a short training from a staff member or experienced volunteer before jumping into action at your assigned station. On the other hand, if your first day is helping with one of our habitat management programs, you will receive a more in-depth training on the park’s ecosystems and the proper techniques to safely carry out the project.

A few of our programs require a little more up-front training or prior knowledge and experience. Some of these include our nature tours, pioneer homestead tours, and living history demonstrations. For these, a new volunteer will typically shadow a staff or experienced volunteer for the first couple of programs. They will then be paired with a mentor for support until they become independent.

What volunteer opportunities are available?

At Jones Park, we have weekday and weekend volunteer opportunities that appeal to individuals with diverse interests. Do you prefer the great outdoors or would you rather work inside? Are you a people person or do you enjoy solo activities? We have a position for everyone. This includes habitat management, environmental education, Texas pioneer history programs, and assisting with our exciting events throughout the year.

Who trains volunteers?

Volunteers are generally trained by Jones Park staff, but they may also receive training from experienced volunteers. Some volunteer jobs, such as stations at our annual events, require only a few minutes of training that can easily be done by any staff member or volunteer. Other roles, such as our nature and pioneer tour guides, require much more training. For these, we may pair a new volunteer with a staff member or experienced volunteer during their training.

Can volunteers choose their positions?

Our application asks volunteers to tell us a little about their skills and interests, and it includes a list of possible jobs that they can select. While some individuals have very specific interests, most tend to have broader interests and are open to different possibilities. Our goal is to find positions with which volunteers are comfortable and can enjoy, whether it involves sticking to their inherent interests or introducing them to new opportunities.

Some volunteer positions may be more popular than others. Which volunteer positions need more volunteers?

We always have a need for additional volunteers for all our positions, but we have an exceptional need for volunteers to serve as Nature Tour Guides and Homestead Tour Guides. At Jones Park, we offer free guided educational tours to children who have at least reached pre-kindergarten, as well as teens and adults. The tours start with a video introduction of the park and a look around the Nature Center. We then head outside for a half-mile nature walk or tour of our replica 1830s-era Redbud Hill Homestead and Akokisa Indian Village.

Because these tours occur on weekday mornings, it’s challenging to find volunteers who are available to help. Becoming a tour guide also requires a little more up-front training than some of the other positions, as you will likely need to shadow an established guide for the first couple of tours and may receive mentoring from a staff or experienced volunteer.

However, you will find the tour guides to be some of the most dedicated, tight-knit, and welcoming volunteers at the park. For anyone who enjoys working with people and has the availability to volunteer on weekdays, it is strongly recommended they become a nature or homestead tour guide.

Do I have to pay to volunteer at Jones Park?

No,  there is no charge to join or remain a member of the Jesse Jones Park Volunteers.

What is the minimum number of volunteer hours required to remain a member of the JJPV?

To remain a voting member of the JJPV, an annual commitment of at least 20 hours is required.

Am I able to volunteer if I have a disability?

Of course. With our wide range of volunteer opportunities, we have something for everyone.

How should I dress when I come to volunteer?

We recommend wearing closed-toe shoes and dressing appropriately for the weather and volunteer duties. If you are volunteering for a service organization or as part of a corporate service group, we encourage you to wear your organization’s shirt. Please keep in mind that we are a family-oriented park, so certain types of clothing are not allowed. We can provide you with more specific information about the dress attire for volunteers.

25 Jul
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Volunteer Spotlight: Darian Paul

When it comes to volunteering, 16-year-old Darian Paul chooses to follow her passions.

Since becoming a Mercer volunteer at 13, the teen has participated in volunteer projects that correspond to her interests in art, science, and gardening.

“I was always interested in science,” she said. “When I learned how cool butterflies were, I started doing more research and really educated myself about butterfly gardens.”

She came across multiple websites that offered information on butterflies and what they need to survive and ordered seed from Live Monarch to get her backyard butterfly garden started.

“For the past 2 to 3 years, I’ve been interested in monarch butterflies,” she said. “I started cultivating butterflies in my backyard. I probably raised about 40. I learned what grows best in our area and what attracts the butterflies.”

Then, two years ago, she learned about a project between Harris County Precinct 4 and the Spring Creek Education Society to plant milkweed along the Spring Creek Greenway. With her own milkweed garden thriving, Darian was excited to assist with the plantings and share information she had learned while growing her own milkweed.

More recently, Darian has become more involved at Mercer as a face painter.

“In the seventh grade, I started volunteering at my school as part of National Junior Honor Society,” she said. “My school put me in a face painting booth and, at the time, I had never face painted before.”

They gave her watercolors and a book of shapes she could paint. When the pictures didn’t turn out as well as she liked, the teen started researching ways to improve her skills. She purchased new paint that stuck to the skin better than watercolors and educated herself by watching YouTube videos on face painting techniques.

By the time the next event rolled around, the teen was churning out more complicated designs, with her own unique flare. Recently, she had the opportunity to demonstrate her talent at Mercer’s Children’s Garden Grand Opening.

“Mercer is a great place to volunteer,” she said. “I love being outside and seeing all the different plants and animals. You also meet a lot of great people who are really interested in their field and are quite knowledgeable. If you don’t know much about a subject, they are eager to teach you.”

25 Jul
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Volunteer Spotlight: National Charity League

Before becoming a mother, Robyn Soileau considered her volunteer experiences as some of the most meaningful in her life. Now, she’s excited to share those experiences with her daughter, Camille.

“I’ve always enjoyed helping others,” said Soileau. “In the past, I worked as a pediatric physical therapist, where I helped children with special needs. Even in college, I was involved in community service groups. I’ve worked with T-ball teams, Meals on Wheels, Boys and Girls Clubs, Texas Children’s Hospital, and more. I’ve always enjoyed volunteering, but being able to work with my daughter was the main appeal of the National Charity League.”

Soileau is a member of the Grand Lilies chapter of the National Charity League (NCL), a nonprofit national organization of mothers and daughters committed to community service, leadership development, and cultural experiences.

“NCL is unique in that mothers serve alongside their daughters,” she said. “It is a way to pass on a love for giving back to the community and see each other in a new light.”

Led by President Lindsay Ardoin, the chapter is open to girls in seventh to 12th grades and their mothers. In addition to volunteer work in the community, the program emphasizes leadership and cultural growth. Mothers and daughters hold leadership positions, attend operas and musicals, and enjoy presentations from various speakers.

Since forming in April, the chapter has taken an active role in events at Mercer Botanic Gardens. The group accepted their first volunteer assignment at Mercer’s Tea in the Gardens and recently helped with Mercer’s Children’s Garden Grand Opening.

During that event, Soileau was proud to see her daughter in action.

“It was nice to see her donate her time for others,” she said. “I enjoyed just spending time with her, just the two of us, doing something new. It was great seeing her take charge of the seed planting booth and helping the children in a kind way.”

For more information, visit www.nationalcharityleague.org.

20 Apr
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Volunteer Spotlight: Latin School of Chicago

Traveling the world, exploring the city, or trying something new is all part of the curriculum for students at the Latin School of Chicago. Every year during Project Week, students leave the classrooms to perform a service project or pursue a topic of interest in locations from Iceland to Uruguay.

“The goal is to have students experience something they can’t experience in the classroom,” said Latin Student Life Director Timothy Cronister. “Some are back in Chicago doing yoga classes. Some are hiking along the west coast. Some are even traveling around the world. We have a group in Florence, Italy right now learning art history.”

This year, Cronister planned a bigger trip. After hearing about Hurricane Harvey on the news, he planned a service trip to Houston to help with relief efforts, including helping Mercer Botanic Gardens prepare for its grand reopening and March Mart Plant Sale.

“I haven’t led a trip in a couple of years, because, luckily, we haven’t had any major disasters,” he said.

“When Harvey hit, I talked with my family, and we decided it was time for me to do another trip.”

Cronister has a history of leading service trips to disaster zones. His students have worked in disaster areas such as Joplin, Missouri; Moore, Oklahoma; and Hurricane Katrina-affected areas.

“Usually some of the best kids sign up for these trips,” he said. “They could have been anywhere else, but they chose service and that says a lot.”

Jack Tempone, a 16-year-old junior, was one of the first to sign up.

“I was watching the news one day and there was a woman affected by Hurricane Harvey. I remember her saying, ‘Please help us. We have nothing,’” he said. “When I heard that, I started looking for ways I could become involved.”

Janice Akufo, a 17-year-old senior, said she signed up for her first service trip after hearing about needs faced by so many following the storm.

“It’s sad that two or three months later you stop hearing about the hurricane, even though people are still in need,” she said. “There’s still a lot more work that needs to be done.”

Mercer Volunteer Coordinator Jamie Hartwell said the timing couldn’t have been better when Cronister contacted her about volunteering.

Because of its location along Cypress Creek, Mercer was among the many areas that experienced severe flooding during the hurricane. The east side Botanic Gardens were closed nearly seven months while staff and volunteers worked to restore damaged areas. By the time the students arrived, Mercer was only days away from its grand reopening.

After touring Mercer’s storm-damaged areas, the students spent the day transporting plants for March Mart and working in Mercer’s pole barn. Many students said they were shocked after learning how high the creek rose.

“We were surprised to see how much damage was done by the hurricane. It’s one thing to hear about it on the news and another seeing it in person,” said Georgia Souleles, 16.

Others said they were impressed by the comradery among volunteers.

“I got to see firsthand how people can come together and make a positive change,” said Tempone.

Thanks to the outpouring of support from volunteers, such as the Latin School, Mercer Society President Maryanne Esser said Mercer has made a drastic transformation.

“It took hundreds of volunteers to organize our first major event since the hurricane,” said Esser.

“Despite losing months of growing time and most of our facilities, everyone managed to pull together and make this event a success. We hope to be at full capacity next year and offer even more wonderful plants at the 2019 March Mart.”

29 Jan
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Volunteer Spotlight: Houston Zoo Collegiate Conservation Program

Mercer Botanic Gardens strives to match volunteers with their interests. When the Houston Zoo’s Collegiate Conservation Program contacted Mercer for a project this summer, they were tasked with removing several types of invasive plant species encroaching on the park’s conservation nursery border.

Since 2011, the group has partnered with organizations across the Houston area on conservation projects from restoring habitats to clearing fields. “During our summers, we strive to expose interns to a variety of conservation projects and organizations around the Houston area,” said Joanna Baptista, Houston Zoo adult programs coordinator. “We spend many of our days in the field working with different organizations removing invasive plant species, planting marsh grasses, and learning about the conservation work they do onsite.”

On average, students complete 20 to 25 one-day projects over the summer and spend 200 hours in the field. Over the past six years, the students cleared Chinese privet and Chinese tallow from Mercer’s natural Hickory Bog, removed spiny, exotic trifoliate orange plants from west side paths, and cleared new trails.

During their most recent project, students helped protect Mercer’s historical tree and rare plant conservation nursery from encroaching invasive plants. Mercer staff estimate the students saved them more than a week’s worth of time and helped protect the rare and endangered plant nursery from contamination. Students worked with Botanical Collections Curator Suzzanne Chapman to clear a 3- to 4-foot swath along a 100-yard fence, removing invasive trees, such as Chinese tallow and Chinese privet, and other plants nearing the nursery.

The conservation nursery houses rare native Texas plants, including the Neches River rose-mallow. Many of those plants are part of the National Collection of Endangered Plants. “Invasive species, along with vines and small trees, were crowding the fenced area that houses Mercer’s endangered plant stock, as well as the historic tree seedlings and plants for the Spring Creek Greenway,” said Chapman. “Clearing the area will prevent weeds in the nursery and allow better air circulation around potted specimens. Native plant populations can be crowded out by exotic invasive plants.”

While organizations across the region benefit from the work of students, Baptista is quick to point out how students benefit, too. “Many students join the program to figure out what they want to do for their future careers. Some learn they are more drawn to the conservation side. Several of our employees at the zoo started as interns. Many of our other interns go on to work for the organizations we partner with.” To volunteer for projects like this, contact Mercer’s volunteer coordinator at 713-274-4160.

29 Jan
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Volunteer Spotlight: Chris Mihalik

While most people head to the grocery store or a local farmer’s market for produce, Mercer volunteer Chris Mihalik only has to walk outside.

“I grow and eat a lot of my own vegetables,” she said. “I don’t have to spend much time in the produce section at the grocery store.” Mihalik grows zucchini, pumpkin, basil, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, figs, oranges, plums, and more. She turns much of her unconsumed produce into preserves, baked goods, and jellies to share with friends, neighbors, and other Mercer volunteers.

Mihalik has always enjoyed gardening. Starting in 2014, she began volunteering in Mercer’s potting shed every Thursday and helping at the March Mart Plant Sale. Before becoming a volunteer, Mihalik visited Mercer regularly with her husband.

“When I retired, my husband asked, ‘Why don’t you volunteer at Mercer?’ We’ve always loved it there,” she said. “I spend time in the potting shed where I’m continuously learning new things about plants. I enjoy what I do , and the people I work with.”

Now, Mihalik applies gardening techniques used at Mercer in her own garden. She grows plants from her own garden cuttings and sells the excess plants at garage sales or gifts them to friends. Greenhouse manager Jacob Martin said many volunteers benefit from Mihalik’s garden.

“Chris loves to share the plants she propagates at home,” said Martin. “She is always bringing in tons of plumeria cuttings to share with other potting shed volunteers. She’s never shy of working outside, even when it feels like 100 degrees.”

One of Mihalik’s top tips for establishing a healthy vegetable garden is to use good compost. Mihalik composts her perishables and even collects compostable material from neighbors. In addition to helping the environment, Mihalik has seen results in her garden.

Last year, she threw an old pumpkin from a neighbor’s trash bin in her compost pile. By spring, she had four pumpkins. “Believe it or not, it grew from my compost bed,” she said. “It popped up in early spring, got flowers, and took over the whole bed. We just let it go. It grew up into the grass and wandered around a little bit.

“I made pumpkin pie, pumpkin muffins, and pumpkin bread. I gave everyone I knew pumpkin something.” It wasn’t the first time she’s grown something by accident. An old cantaloupe in her compost bin also sprouted. “You don’t have to work as hard with good soil,” she said.

Although enriched soil makes gardening easier, Mihalik has yet to find a shortcut for keeping her plants watered during the Houston summers. Despite the work, Mihalik believes the payoff is worth it.

“I love to watch things grow,” she said. “It’s exciting to watch a little sprout develop into a plant.”

11 May
By: Communications 0

Meet Jones Park Volunteer Coordinator Brent Wilkins

Brent Wilkins has loved nature and the outdoors for as long as he can remember. Wilkins grew up exploring the wilds of Oklahoma with his father and grandfather and began volunteering with exotic animals before graduating high school. As an adult, he’s worked as a zookeeper, environmental programs specialist, and now as the volunteer coordinator at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center.

A self-described people person, Wilkins believes his duties at Jones Park fit his personality perfectly. He’s grateful for the opportunity to interact with a variety of interesting people in a setting that he enjoys.

You can learn more about Wilkins and his work with wildlife and nature below.

 

What should people know about you?

I grew up in Oklahoma City as the youngest of three brothers. My paternal grandparents were ministers, and my maternal grandparents ran a small dairy farm and a second-hand store. Before retiring a few years ago, my father worked in law enforcement, and my mother worked in the oil and gas field. I don’t have any children yet, but I enjoy spending time with my niece and nephew.

Parks and volunteerism have been an integral part of my life for many years. I started my professional career volunteering at the Oklahoma City Zoological Park & Botanical Garden during high school, dedicating 500 hours before I received my first job as a zookeeper. Working as a volunteer, with volunteers, and now as a volunteer coordinator has been a lot of fun.

When I’m not coordinating volunteers, I enjoy spending my free time engaging in outdoor activities like walking, hiking, and traveling. This goes back to my roots, as my grandfather helped build the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma as an employee with the Works Progress Administration. My father and I have spent countless hours exploring this area, along with many other scenic places.

 

What professional details would you like to share with readers?

I studied zoology at the University of Oklahoma, and I have worked at four zoos across the southern United States. My specialty was taking care of African savanna animals, but I also worked in the education department at the Dallas Zoo. In addition, I served six months in AmeriCorps, working at a national wildlife refuge in Oklahoma, and I was the volunteer coordinator at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. I am excited to bring this experience to Jones Park.

 

What brought you to Jones Park?

I was looking for a warmer climate with both natural and developed areas. After living in both urban and rural areas, I found that I enjoy working in a natural setting but living in a more developed area. This is because I enjoy protecting wildlife in its natural habitat, but I’m also a people person. Jones Park is the perfect combination of everything I like.

Because I have a special appreciation for volunteers, working as the volunteer coordinator at Jones Park is a great role for me. I’m delighted to have the privilege to work with such a great group of volunteers and staff.

I am also passionate about parks and recreation. I enjoy the work and believe in the value of providing accessible, high-quality greenspaces and recreational amenities to the public.

 

List a few fun facts about yourself.

My favorite colors are blue and green. I was once asked why these are my favorite colors. After thinking about it for a moment, I concluded that blue is the color of water, the most essential component of life, and green is the color of plants, a key source of oxygen, wildlife habitat, and the foundation of the food chain. Without blue and green, we would not have biodiversity – something that I have devoted my life to protecting.

I can communicate in Spanish at an intermediate level. In college, I was required to take two years of a foreign language, so I chose Spanish and fell in love with the language and Latin American culture. Because I lived in several Spanish-speaking communities, traveled to two Latin American countries, and have many Latino friends, I have had plenty of opportunities to practice over the years.

During college and between internships, I worked at a couple of upscale hotels in Oklahoma City. When celebrities came to town, they often stayed at our hotels. Some of the celebrities I’ve served include Alice Cooper, Gene Simmons, Reba McEntire, and Diane Keaton. If you ever want to hear about my interesting encounters with celebrities, just ask.