SLO Botanical Garden’s Vast Network of Volunteers Show the Green Thumb of Community Members | News | San Luis Obispo

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AmeriCorps member Peter Sarracino knows his days volunteering at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden are limited, but it’s an experience he plans to build on for the rest of his life.

“If I am in this area as a teacher, I will definitely use it as a resource and element in the classroom. But also, wherever I end up, a botanical garden nearby would be a huge resource to bring kids in and let them see the natural world through this lens, ”he said.

Sarracino wants to enroll in doctoral school to be a qualified primary school teacher. But he also felt the call to volunteer with AmeriCorps, which not only gave him time to save money for higher education, but also introduced him to the SLO Botanical Garden.

Nestled in the heart of California, which has the greatest natural botanical diversity in the country, the garden is one of the few facilities entirely dedicated to plants from the world’s Mediterranean climatic zones.

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PITCH IN Karen Darger is one of more than 500 volunteers who help the SLO Botanical Garden with maintenance and many other tasks.  - PHOTO WITH THE AUTHORIZATION OF THE BOTANICAL GARDEN SLO

  • Photo courtesy of SLO Botanical Garden
  • TO INTEGRATE Karen Darger is one of more than 500 volunteers who help the SLO Botanical Garden with maintenance and many other tasks.

Since the idea of ​​an SLO Botanical Garden germinated in 1989, the garden has emphasized the introduction of native plants into communities as they occur in nature. Its website mentions a host of services such as water conservation and green energy, botanical research, and hosting a horticultural library.

But the roots of the Botanical Garden lie in its extensive volunteer program, which ranges from maintaining the garden to organizing educational tours for the public. As AmeriCorps Fellows, Sarracino and his colleague Megan LePage are two of the new Garden Volunteer Service Leaders who joined the Garden in August 2021. Without volunteers, Sarracino and LePage said SLO County would not be more aware of unspoiled nature at El Chorro Regional Park – and the garden itself would not exist.

“We would lose an opportunity to learn about the natural environment of the central coast. We are part of the Chorro County Regional Park. The land here was once part of the National Guard, and it used to be a ranch.” , says Sarracino. “It would likely be closed or be part of SLO County’s impressive trail system, but there would be no display of native plants and other Mediterranean plants to educate people about who they are and our relationship. with them.”

Volunteering in the garden typically takes place in two-hour sessions, five days a week, depending on which department people want to join. LePage said most of the volunteers arrive early in the morning to help out while the weather is still cool.

“We do an average of about 1,000 volunteer hours per month. During lower periods, it’s 800 to 900 hours. During higher periods, it can go up to 1,300,” said LePage.

LePage is training to become a docent, an educational guide that offers free tours to the public. Her time at SLO Botanical Garden helped her discover that she wanted a career where she would occupy front row seats studying plants.

“I also realized how important it is to have a truly fulfilling job and to serve the community in some way. Just before I left for vacation, a little boy ran to me at the kindergarten and said to me: ‘I really like it here’, she said. and been so open and compassionate about a place I had just visited. ”

SLO Botanical Garden’s vast network of volunteers spans seven departments. Some of these, like maintaining gardens and facilities, are tasks that volunteers learn on the job. Others, like office support and marketing, require prior experience. Currently limited to the two of them, Sarracino and LePage said New times that the volunteer services department could benefit from an expansion given the wide range of activities available. Before their 11-month tenure ends this summer, the couple hope to set up a volunteer training program to streamline management.

“Our biggest obstacle is the different ways the volunteers have engaged in the garden and reconciled them into a uniform structure,” said Sarracino.

One of the more original volunteer programs is the opportunity for county residents who are to perform court-mandated community service activities to choose the SLO Botanical Garden.

“It’s something they can do, it’s not the standard ‘pick up trash on the freeway’ sort of thing. Hope it’s more interesting for them. We can relate to that. someone who may not have come to volunteer before and now is taking advantage and becoming part of the community, ”said Sarracino.

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the Botanical Garden completely from April to May 2020, LePage said volunteers quickly returned because a lot of their activities are focused on the outdoors.

“It’s a funny juxtaposition: our high risk volunteers have gone down, then probably more young people.” [joined]. Now it’s stabilizing a bit. Much of our retired and more sensitive population is returning, ”said Sarracino.

The volunteer duo are preparing for Free Day at the Botanical Garden on January 17, where community members, especially children, can explore nature and enjoy a free guided walk.

One way to make the event and future events run smoothly? Register to volunteer.

“Learning about plants connects you to human history, cultural history, and science. It’s a way to engage with the world in a more serious way,” said Sarracino. “If you want to learn more about your local environment, or what you can do about climate change, or what you can do in your own life just to be healthier, the garden is a great place to start.

“I really became a new person when I started to learn more about different plants and how we relate to them. “??

Contact Bulbul Editor Rajagopal at [email protected].

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