Working Alongside Staff: A Volunteer's Experience
“When I first came to campus and saw the peacocks, the farm, and the camels, I knew this was the place for me,” explains Carrie describing her first visit to Green Chimneys. With a career in software development behind her and extensive dog training and volunteer work with shelter dogs, Carrie was interested in volunteering with an animal-related organization in Westchester or Putnam County. Her research led her to Green Chimneys. Nearly two years later, Carrie is very much a part of the Farm & Wildlife Center team.
Every Wednesday, Carrie arrives at the Brewster campus, dressed for the weather and ready to tend to the livestock at the Teaching Barn. Like many of the farm volunteers, Carrie helps muck stalls, feed animals, and tackle just about anything that needs to be done. Ask Carrie what makes volunteering at Green Chimneys so special, and she’s quick to answer.
“It’s an extremely supportive and welcoming environment. Ideologies are shared. The staff are always willing to share their knowledge. Best practices are shared. Volunteers participate in animal husbandry, training and are encouraged to observe vet visits. It’s also a great pleasure to watch the students interact with the animals.” explains Carrie.
The llamas have come to know Carrie well. She’s taken a liking to them too. With guidance from farm manager Danielle Powers, Carrie has used clicker training, a teaching technique most commonly associated with dogs and zoo animals, to work with our llamas. The process has been a learning experience for both volunteer and llama. Carrie has helped one llama, Alexa, conquer a fear of the scale. By applying clicker and target training techniques, as well as using a trusty yoga mat to mask the scale’s intimidating metal surface, Alexa is now able to be weighed without difficulty. In time and with patience, Carrie has assisted the once reluctant llama to be more trusting. And with that trust, Alexa has also become more curious and now seeks interaction with others.
MORE THAN CHORES
There are a lot of physical chores involved with volunteering on the farm. Sharing ideas and experiences is a big part of it, too. “We share our approaches in animal care and enrichment, human-animal interaction and so on,” explains Danielle. “But we also want to learn from our volunteers too. We want to know what volunteers are looking to get out of the experience, the knowledge they bring to the table, their observations here.”
More than 75 individuals volunteer annually in various parts of the organization, from providing administrative support in offices to helping students with homework to tending to gardens. Of those dedicated individuals, 40 work exclusively on the farm.
“It’s truly a culture of inclusion,” Carrie adds. “As volunteers, we’re working alongside staff and interns. That’s what makes volunteering at Green Chimneys so unique. We’re made to feel like more than just workers. We’re valued members of the team.”
“As a nonprofit organization, Green Chimneys relies on the generosity of individuals to share time, talents and interests,” explains Kristin Dionne, Green Chimneys Director of Fund Development. “Volunteers offer fresh perspectives from which our students, staff, and animals benefit. We are forever grateful to our volunteers.”