Watsonville Wetlands Watch docents Lorrie Rubio (from left), Cathy Gamble and Bob Leonard propagate wetland plants Friday at the Fitz Wetlands Educational Resource Center. (Photo by Erik Chalhoub/Register-Pajaronian).
WATSONVILLE — Sharon Clark was looking for a volunteer opportunity three years ago when she saw a presentation by Watsonville Wetlands Watch staff.
There, she learned about the organization’s docent program, in which volunteers lead young people into the South County slough system, sharing with them the natural systems that surround them.
Now in her third year as a volunteer, Clark said she enjoys taking fourth, fifth and sixth-graders on field trips into the wetlands.
“I love it,” she said. “I spend as much time as I can. I love the people that work here, and I love the kids. A lot of times you’re introducing them to a whole new world they don’t usually see.”
As the new year unfolds, Watsonville Wetlands Watch is looking to train a new crop of docents to go through the seven-week training program.
Docents assist with field trips, lead walks, help with community events and participate in wetlands restoration. They also work in the library or greenhouse at the Fitz Wetlands Education Resource Center.
The volunteers also work with the Wetlands Steward Program, a project by Watsonville Wetlands Watch that trains high school students to teach science-based, after-school activities to younger students and provides a team of knowledgeable docents to help.
“This year, we are taking more Watsonville kids into the wetlands than ever before, and we need volunteers who can help provide these students with meaningful nature experiences,” volunteer coordinator Kathy Fieberling said.
Dozens of staff members and volunteers from Watsonville Wetlands Watch gathered Friday in the organization’s Fitz Wetlands Educational Resource Center for a baby shower held for one of their directors.
The baby shower was a testament to the close-knit community that makes up the wetlands watch staff, said docent volunteer Becky Stewart.
“It’s a wonderful group of people, and we’re extremely dedicated to preserving our natural resources and to teaching children about them,” she said.
Now in her second year, Steward said she spent 30 years as a special education teacher before retiring in 2010. She started with the wetlands watch as a volunteer, and then later went through the 7-week training program.
The opportunity to serve as a docent was the perfect opportunity for Stewart after her retirement.
“I wanted a way to stay in contact with young people, and to give back to the community of Watsonville,” she said.
Stewart said the volunteers largely work with a population of young people who rarely experience the natural areas that surround them.
“This is an opportunity to give nature to the kids,” she said.
Bill Best, who has been a docent for more than four years, said he previously taught at the Santa Cruz County Jail Rountree facility until funding for his position dried up.
Best said he came to the Watsonville Wetlands Watch hoping to give guided tours. When he learned that such a service was not available, he agreed to sit in on a docent training session.
“The rest is history,” he said.
Best said he suffers from hearing loss and other health problems that leave him unable to do more physically demanding volunteer work.
“I absolutely love nature, and always have,” he said. “Just having the opportunity to do this is like I died and went to heaven.”
The Watsonville Wetlands Watch 2013 Docent Training Program begins Jan. 23.
The seven-week program features a group of local experts who provide an inside look at the wetlands of Watsonville, including the ecology, history and restoration of the wetlands. Bilingual docents are especially needed, but that is not requirement to participate. The seven-week program includes Wednesday evening presentations and Saturday morning field trips.
For information on the Watsonville Wetlands Watch, call Volunteer Coordinator Kathy Fieberling at 345-1226, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.watsonvillewetlandswatch.org.
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