For a volunteer on the Gulf Coast looking to try to make a difference in the BP oil spill, the arrival of the National Audubon Society in Mississippi has been heaven sent. While not the first presence of the Society in Mississippi, it is the most visible for the estimated 23,000 volunteers who have registered to help. While appearing to be somewhat piecemeal, the establishment of the Audubon Volunteer Resource Center represents a new direction in the vaunted organization’s response to one of the largest ecological disasters to hit the Gulf of Mexico, rivaling even the size of the Ixtoc I spill.
The Audubon Volunteer Resource Center one of the beacons for volunteers who wish to help with the oil spill’s effect on the environment. But to think that this is just a simple environmentalist’s effort to fruitlessly save the swamps, you would be sadly mistaken.
To start, the organization of 23,000 volunteers from around the nation is no small task. The first task of the Response Center is to make contact with all of the volunteers to thank them for their commitment to the Audubon Society and the environment. The effort, which is meant to ensure that volunteers do not grow frustrated with the Society’s response, is important to keeping the vast community effort alive and ready for action.
The second, but most important, goal is to organize the response. To bring the combined effort of 23,000 volunteers, a level of communication and organization must be achieved if any goals are to be met. To meet the leadership needs of the facility, the Audubon Society has brought in a young, talented woman named Jillian Rubio.
Jillian is an impassioned, enthusiastic person who brings a sense of excitement and commitment to what could be just another call center. I cannot claim to ever have been a strong environmentalist, nor can I say that have ever felt much concern for wildlife. What I can say, though, is that the passion brought by Jillian contagious, and what was meant to be a four hour volunteer shift turned into a nearly eight hour session of being a part of something that just felt good.
This sort of experience is what makes or breaks most volunteer efforts. If the volunteers do not feel like they are making a difference, or that their efforts are being wasted, then the volunteers will stop coming. If the volunteers stop coming, then the effort itself will cease to be.
Audubon’s Volunteer Resource Center, though, is not likely to meet such a fate. While I was making calls to volunteers to thank them for volunteering on the web site, my pragmatic mind drifted into the dark thoughts. Surely, my skills could be better utilized doing something a more effective, I though aloud. Jillian heard my remark to another caller and near ran over to me. “The volunteers need know that we want their help,” she had said, as she explained that when things start to get worse, and they will, we will need them to come here and help.
That was the most important thing I learned that day. In a crisis, people willing throw their hat in the ring in the heat of the moment, but as lives move on, it becomes more difficult to keep their hat in the ring. Our job at the Volunteer Resource Center was not only to organize volunteers to respond to various tasks, like making nets to catch birds, but to keep the movement alive until the center becomes task saturated. If we do our job right, then people will be there to help months from now, when the oil really starts to do its worst to the coast, and to the birds.