COVID-19 precautions meant a new way of appreciating volunteers for the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. In years past the staff at DING presented awards at a luncheon. Last year, the refuge introduced the idea of a drive-through event, which was how they recognized volunteers again this year.
Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland said Visitor Services Ranger Katy Hosokawa came up with this very creative solution. “We hosted a drive-through appreciation event on a Friday, when Wildlife Drive is closed to the public. It was so successful, we repeated it this year with our April No Foolin’ Volunteers Appreciation Drive-Through on Friday morning, April 1. We invited the volunteers to drive by 13 stations where they played games, observed wildlife, and received gifts, awards, and lots of cheering and the enthusiastic gratitude they deserve.”
Refuge and DDWS staff and interns attended the stations, along with guest organizations that will be participating in “Ding” Darling Day on April 24 at Lakes Park in Fort Myers. More than 90 volunteers participated with big smiles and compliments about the event.
“Of course, volunteer numbers were down this year due to COVID surges and because the Visitor & Education Center exhibits did not reopen until after annual statistics were tallied,” said Hosokawa. “But we are mighty proud of our volunteer numbers, regardless.”
Hosokawa reported that in fiscal year 2020-2021, 361 volunteers worked 18,522 hours at the refuge, representing a labor and benefits savings of more than $528,000. That amounts to the equivalent of more than nine full-time staffers.
DDWS formed in 1982 specifically to support a volunteer corps after the opening of the refuge’s first visitor center that year. More than 11,000 people visited in the first month once the center opened, overwhelming a staff unaccustomed to dealing with the inquisitive public.
“Volunteers stepped in then to fill in the gaps left by inadequate federal funding, and they continue to do so today as the budget steadily declines,” said DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller,
Here’s a list of volunteers who won awards for reaching hour and year achievement levels.
20 years: Denny Souers
10 years: Judy Barbieri, Carolyn Bergen, David Keen, Judy Perkins, Tom Ware, Jack Waszmer
10,000 hours: Doris Hardy
6,500 hours: Patty Wettstein
2,500 hours: Randy Reed, Sandy Reed
2,000 hours: Janet Lucree
1,500 hours: Nancy Riley, Karl Werner
1,000 hours: Lyndon Borror, Carl Greenbaum, Sandra Greenbaum, Cindy Seaman, Jack Waszmer
500 hours: Richard Jones, Sharon Jones
250 hours: Christine Columbus, Rose Flaherty, Rick Herbst, David Jeffries, Mary Meyer, Trish Sutherland, Randy Reed, Sandy Reed
150 hours: Christine Columbus, Rick Herbst, Robin Kirk, Delores Lobbato, Mary Meyer, Cristina Shaul, Matt Shaul, Donna Wilmot, Susie Wilson