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New to vounteering - need guidance


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My normal MO is to jump into researching new activity.  I realize, after watching for some time, that the folks who post on these forums have a lot of experience and a lot of good advice.  (Many of us also have a lot of other things, too.)  Given this depth of knowledge my first research stop will be here.

Jinx and I have been full time for three years.  Until now due to health issues we haven't seriously considered working.  Recent improvements mean we can stay on the road for a few more years.  This leads us to think volunteering for a couple of months might be fun.  A month or two might also be a small enough bite to figure out if we like it without committing for a long period of time. We are fully scheduled until 12/1/21.  We will in Florida with scheduled volunteering at a golf tournament beginning Nov and will winter in FL unless something interesting turns up here.  Next year we are busy 5/6 -8/1 (planned grandchild time and bucket list stuff) but are open after that.  We are 90% open beginning winter '22, including where we winter. We've had decades of Maine winters and no longer "do" snow.  I like fall but signs that say "Bridge ices Before Road" mean we're too far north for winter. I spent eight years camping with Uncle Sam and had a six week bike camping trip. Those were decades ago.  I no longer sleep on the ground.

I would prefer some sort of interpreter gig but expect CG host and cleaning bathrooms is more likely.  While I can blunder along at rough carpentry, RV repair, solder and turn a wrench, I am not a handyman.  I can mow a lawn, drive a small tractor, fell a tree, handle timber including building a cabin, repair boats and have a have a lot of experience being outdoors.  Jinx has more office experience.  Both of us type. (Given the number of errors I've corrected I'm not sure that I qualify.) We are reasonably fit; she is age 60's and I am 70's.  We have no health issues that prevent us from most jobs.

We have a 2006 37" Carriage with a major rebuild in 2019.  We have and LP generator and refrigerator, but no solar and no inverter.  We have almost exclusively camped FHU/50.  We can go about anywhere so long as travel to and from that anywhere doesn't involve winter. (Read: Not Rockies or Pacific NW in late Sept to October on).  We would prefer not to dry camp but can do 30A and pump or dump (get blue wagon). 

Withing these constraints (yes, I think we are asking alot.)

1.  Can we realistically volunteer somewhere for only a month or two?

2.  What resources are available to find volunteer positions?

3.  What should be know about volunteering?

4.  What should we do or not do?

5.  Something I haven;t thought of?

A solid plus would be something that would take us by Carhenge, NE.  Oh, and thanks for taking the time to read this lengthy post.

Wayne & Jinx
2017 F-350 diesel, dually
2006 Carriage Carri-Lite 36KSQ

Edited by Jinx & Wayne
Incorrect statement.
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1.  Can we realistically volunteer somewhere for only a month or two?

This is possible with many state parks and similar agencies. We have been places that asked as little as 1 month but most federal agencies want 3 months or longer. You just need to investigate the places you are interested in. 

6 minutes ago, Jinx & Wayne said:

2.  What resources are available to find volunteer positions?

There are quite a few, with the largest one bing volunteer.gov for federal agencies and some state ones. The US Fish & Wildlife Service has their own volunteer page as well and that same thing is true for the National Park Service.  All states have park websites and most all of them also seek volunteers, many for as little as 1 month. Another source that we have used is the magazine, Workamper News which has advertisements for many places that one might not otherwise think of.

For further information about volunteering, I suggest that you take a look at what we have on our website on the practice as we did our first RV volunteer position in 2000 and our most recent one was with the North Dakota State Parks in 2019. We have now completed 38 different volunteer positions and plan to do a few more as health allows. We have found it a very enjoyable way to travel and to learn and experience new things. 

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We've volunteered a lot during our 16 years of full-timing.  Kirk gave some good resource information and as he stated, the national parks will usually want a 3 month commitment.  Fish and Wildlife shorter times and state parks shorter times.  If you want interpretative Oregon State Parks are a good choice.  We gave lighthouse tours at Heceta Head Lighthouse & I see they have an opening for 2022. We also did South Manitou Island Lighthouse summers in Michigan - Sleeping Bear Dunes Nat'l Lakeshore.  Also gave tours at Kartchner Caverns State Park, AZ.  Check the park volunteer sites for more openings.  Good luck!  It gives you a good feeling to help our parks out since they are so short-funded.  They will all have space for your RV.  We also volunteered at a local school with their early elementary reading program.  Many volunteer opportunities out there and with a little experience they will then be easier to come by.

https://stateparks.oregon.gov/index.cfm?do=get-involved.volunteer-opening&oppId=872

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Volunteering varies a lot depending on the facility and the managers.  Activities and duties vary greatly across the parks in the same system. 

We have volunteered at 2 state parks in Texas that we will never volunteer for again as long as they have the current managers.  Overall, we are most satisficed with the National Wildlife Refuges.  There are several pages on Facebook that you can ask about experiences at various locations.

We have found a few shorter term positions at places the volunteers had to leave due to health or family reasons and the park will happily accept a shorter term volunteer.

Ken

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At Rocky Mountain Nat'l Park we succeeded in splitting the 3-month requirement with another couple but don't count on that happening often.

The big parks like the 3-month commitment because they don't have to be constantly training. Rocky Mountain has over 1,000 volunteers a season.   Smaller parks are more laid-back.

Edited by 2gypsies
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  • 2 months later...

Just finished 4 months in Colorado at a State Park.  All of the above is good, useful advice. We knew ahead of time we were interested in CO (tired of summer heat) and had visited several parks prior to retiring and having time available.

Suggest you check out any State Parks website for opportunities. Research carefully to be sure what is being asked for fits with what you can/want to do.  Time frames are usually listed in the opportunities.

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10 hours ago, jblo said:

Just finished 4 months in Colorado at a State Park. 

It's nice hearing a good report. We have volunteered in a lot of places but no CO state parks. Most recent was a ND state park and that was a good experience also. We really have never had a bad volunteer experience with a state park in any state, only some better than others. 

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  • 2 months later...

We are spending the winter Volunteering at a state park in northeast Tx and absolutely love it. This is our second Texas State park to "volunteer host" in and both have been great experiences and would (and will) come back to one of them next winter. We have had great Rangers to work with who have been extremely accomodating when we had to make unscheduled trips for family emergencies and other "real life" happening that popped up. They have also been super appreciative of the work we do and time we spend at the park. They are open to camp hosts spending shorter time spans but generally require at least 30 day stays. Good luck in your travels, there are many, many opportunities out there to explore!!!

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16 minutes ago, coachmac9 said:

This is our second Texas State park to "volunteer host" in and both have been great experiences and would (and will) come back to one of them next winter.

We domiciled in Livingston and had grandchildren in TX so we spend quite a bit of time in TX. We preferred interpretive positions and did 2 of those and 1 maintenance in TX. It has been some years now but our most memorable would be Washington on the Brazos, and Government Canyon State Natural Area.

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You might want to check out two places that I have volunteered in the winter months.   Aransas Wildlife Refuge in Texas and the visitor center at Table Rock Dam with Army Corp of Engineers in Branson MO.   

It is harder to find opportunities in the winter since there are fewer places open in the northern states that drives folks south.    Branson can be cold and icy in the winter.

The Care Center at the Escapee Park in Livingston also looks for volunteers.

 

 

Edited by trostberg
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We have volunteered in 31 states so far and are shooting for all lower 48. Your best bet is to pick an area you want to be in and start calling the local State Parks or NWR's. Even private CG's are open to volunteers for a free site. Don't be timid about negotiating the job requirements that fit your skill and desire along with the time requirement spent there. If the place won't negotiate, then move on, no problem. This is about our adventure, we are not trying to become connected to a particular park and if we can help along the way, then great. We usually try for 4-6 weeks and usually the less popular SP's are very accommodating. We don't mind bathroom checking but will shy away from being stuck behind a visitor center counter.

For instance, Table Rock Dam wanted volunteers for a 3 month gig which was just too long for us. A month later they called and had a spot for 1 month due to an unplanned opening. It didn't work out since we had already moved on and had found another park.

Edited by gjhunter01
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  • 2 weeks later...

We tried for a gig in SE Arizona with the National Park Service and the competition was intense. We did not get the gig. With more research we found that the Wildlife Refuges would be a better fit for us so we had been looking through volunteer.gov for a spot. We found a refuge that was short of volunteers for the fall so we got a short 6 week gig. This will give us some “experience” in the system so we hope to get a longer 2-3 month next time. Already looking for Late Winter-Early Spring 2023. 
 

What I am saying is, don’t be frustrated if you don’t get a spot. Lots of people are looking. 

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1 hour ago, Trailer4Two said:

What I am saying is, don’t be frustrated if you don’t get a spot.

When we were doing a lot of that I used to line up our stays about 6 to 10 months ahead. I usually would locate an area of the country that we wished to spend some time and then do a search to see what refuges were in that area. If you visit the USFWS website there is a section for each refuge and somewhere on it there is a contact email. I would send a note to that contact and ask if they had any resident volunteer positions. We discovered that the most popular volunteer positions are seldom advertised because they get filled before there is any need to advertise them. I also made up a resume to attach to my emails and on it I included contact information for all of our previous volunteer positions supervisors. We spent time as volunteers at 9 different national wildlife refuges, 5 different national parks and a bunch of other locations. I always tried to have a gig lined up months before we planned to go there. We did consider the USFWS to be the best agency to volunteer with among federal agencies but do not overlook the various state agencies as well. One of our most unique experiences was time spent at a tree farm for the Virginia Dept. of Forestry and another was at Oregon's Ft, Stephens State Park. We also spent some time at an Idaho state wildlife refuge one summer.

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We found the National Wildlife Refuges to be much better than the state parks for volunteer work.  The big plus was no campers to deal with.  Most of the campers are pretty decent folks and are not an issue, but some of them are real problems.  How much of a problem depends on what the park management lets people get by with?  We found that the Federal agencies were much less tolerant of misbehavior.

Ken

 

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2 hours ago, TXiceman said:

The big plus was no campers to deal with.

We spent time in state parks in 7 different states and only one time were we campground hosts. We operated an information kiosk in one Oregon park, and gave lighthouse tours in two others in Oregon as neither lighthouse had a campground. In Idaho Pam worked in the visitor center and I did maintenance part of the time and lead tours part of the time in a state park that was a historic site and wildlife refuge, with no campground. In Texas we were at 2 historic sites without a campground except for volunteers and in a state natural area that had no campground. In Kentucky we were campground hosts and that was also true in one of the 4 county parks where we volunteered. Most states have volunteer positions that are not campground hosts if you look for them. At the same time, if you are a bit selective on what the host is expected to do, campground host can be enjoyable if you are a people person. Probably not for a recluse though.   ☺️

The Army Corps of Engineers have both campground host and maintenance positions as do most national parks. Like any other job position, you do need to find out what it is that you will be asked to do as well as what benefits and amenities you will receive. We enjoyed our time as campground hosts, but we did not accept positions that required regular maintenance of toilets and restrooms. We found that it is just as important to let a potential volunteer coordinator know what you do not want to do as it is to learn what they will expect you to do. My advice is to consider any agency as some of our most memorable experiences were in places we would not have thought of but found in the magazine Workamper News. They have advertisements for positions that one would not be likely to think of. We volunteered with the FL Game & Fish Dept. with 4 other couples running a hunter check station, at a Virginia State Dept. of Forestry tree farm, and at grass airfield that is used mostly by antique aircraft as some of the more unique experiences that we found in that magazine. And don't overlook the Escapees Job Exchange, which had not been started back when we did most of our RV volunteering. We have now completed more than 30 resident RV volunteer positions and hope to get in a few more before age prohibits it all as we have had so many experiences that we could never have had in any other way. 

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6 hours ago, Kirk W said:

One of our most unique experiences was time spent at a tree farm for the Virginia Dept. of Forestry and another was at Oregon's Ft, Stephens State Park. We also spent some time at an Idaho state wildlife refuge one summer.

I always thought your post unique experience was mowing at that grass airport. That's the one that caught and kept my attention. :)

Linda

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1 hour ago, sandsys said:

I always thought your post unique experience was mowing at that grass airport.

It was right up there too. Really hard to pin down what I would consider the most unique but that would be on the list. I don't think that they are still taking in RV volunteers but am not sure. I found it in Workamper News. We became such good friends with the couple that own it that we were back there a total of 5 times, the most recent being in 2016.

Edited by Kirk W
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9 hours ago, Trailer4Two said:

We tried for a gig in SE Arizona with the National Park Service and the competition was intense. We did not get the gig. With more research we found that the Wildlife Refuges would be a better fit for us so we had been looking through volunteer.gov for a spot. We found a refuge that was short of volunteers for the fall so we got a short 6 week gig. This will give us some “experience” in the system so we hope to get a longer 2-3 month next time. Already looking for Late Winter-Early Spring 2023. 
 

Check out Aransas Wildlife Refuge on the coast in Texas.  They have a visitor center and many outside positions when I volunteered their.  They also have a nice building for volunteers with shower, kitchen and TV area

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