Volunteers in Parks Case Study: Alley Pond Environmental Center
Alley Pond Environmental Center, a private, nonprofit corporation, is located within Alley Pond Park in eastern Queens, New York City. The Center is a designated National Environmental Study Area that develops and mounts exhibits about the ecology of the Park and offers environmental education programs to school groups and to preschool children. The APEC maintains a mini zoo-aquarium with rabbits, snakes and turtles which is used for educational purposes.
APEC receives funding from the City and the State of New York, and several corporate sponsors. This funding supports four full-time staff members and several part time assistants, all of whom do volunteer scheduling in addition to their regular duties. This is not an ideal solution — the staff would like a full time volunteer coordinator but budget constraints prevent them from hiring one.
Volunteers help with general administration duties, maintenance and construction of zoo facilities, fund-raising activities, and special events. They also assist environmental instructors by preparing class materials and helping to teach the class.
APEC is not presently actively recruiting volunteers because the staff cannot handle more than are currently being referred to them through agencies. Many of their volunteers are school – aged children with community service requirements referred to APEC by their schools. In addition, several adults volunteer on a regular basis. Other volunteers include groups of retarded adults brought in by social service agencies.
When applying to be a volunteer, people must fill out an application which will help the staff place them. In the case of youth volunteers, Alley Pond has developed a “contract” between the volunteer and the park. Using this contact, Alley Pond staff make sure that the volunteer understands the commitment and responsibilities involved in volunteering. If a young volunteer refuses to fulfill his or her commitment adequately despite warnings, he or she is “fired.”
New volunteers are trained in one of two ways: assignment to an experienced volunteer in order to “learn the ropes”, or participation in a group session. Group sessions are not scheduled with any regularity, but rather are planned when a several volunteers are starting at once (e.g. at the beginning of a semester).
APEC holds insurance which will cover volunteers should anything happen, but the Center does still worry about liability. Every volunteer (or guardian if the volunteer is under 18) is required to sign a waiver. The waivers have little legal binding, but they do give people who volunteer a feeling of responsibility for their actions.
- Alley Pond Environmental Center staff have found that when working with groups, such as students or retarded adults from group homes, it is helpful to have a liaison or supervisor to whom they can request help if problems arise.
The Alley Pond Environmental Center project was started in 1979. For more information, please contact:
Dr. Aline Yeuler
Alley Pond Environmental Center
228-06 Northern Boulevard
Douglaston, NY 11363