Volunteering in Nature: A Legacy of Love for The Outdoors

Welcome back to Volunteering In Nature, a blog series that explores the wonderful world of volunteering for UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County’s ecology and natural resources program. So far, we have shared all about the ecology and natural resources program and volunteer opportunities, and a heartfelt expression of gratitude for the important contributions that volunteers have made to our award-winning youth program LIFE

In a crowded tent full of people waiting in line, a woman and her son hand a care package to another woman and her son.
Photo credit: Willian_2000 from Pixabay.

Why Volunteer?

You’ve heard how volunteering impacts our work here at Extension, but what about the experience of the volunteers themselves? Keep reading for an inside look into the world of volunteering through an interview with Anne Maloney, a seasoned and dedicated volunteer for the ecology and natural resources program. While many share commonalities in their motivations for choosing to become volunteers, there is something unique in the heart of each individual that inspires them to use their time to be in service to others, and in the case of the ecology and natural resources program, to the Earth too. For Anne Maloney, that seed was sown when she was a child. 

Interview With Anne Maloney

a group of young boys stands around a picnic table placing leaves and matchsticks inside of a foil tin to create a matchstick fire model. An older woman stands watching them at the end of the table.
Anne looks on as students construct a matchstick forest model for 4-H Exploring Your Environment summer camp to simulate how fires move through different landscapes.

What is your professional background, and what are your related hobbies or interests? 

I am a licensed clinical social worker. In my career I have worked with child protective services and foster families, and then in programs for persons with disabilities, and people experiencing homelessness.  So, maybe I have some transferable skills in life skills education and some patience for and appreciation of people with different life experiences. But, when I mostly retired and moved to Florida I gravitated toward my long-standing love of the outdoors.  I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and was fortunate to have a dad who loved being outside, and fortunate to have a community that had a wonderful public parks system; Cleveland Metropolitan Parks, the Emerald Necklace. So many of my good family memories involve a picnic or a hike in the park. 

I like to think I’m carrying on a family legacy from my dad to my daughter and my granddaughters of love for the outdoors.    

How did you learn about this opportunity to volunteer with the ecology and natural resources program at UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County, and what interested you about this opportunity? 

Shortly after moving to Sarasota in fall of 2017, I attended a volunteer recruitment event at Mote and started volunteering there. I learned a lot about the animals and the marine environment. However, I live right next door to a Sarasota County Park and the park is full of trees, plants and smaller creatures that were unfamiliar to me. That is when I found the UF/IFAS Extension Florida Master Naturalist Program. So, in January of 2018 I started in the Freshwater Systems class.

I had been participating in the Florida Master Naturalist Program, and lead instructor Dr. Katherine Clements sent an opportunity to volunteer for the LIFE program to class participants.  

One of the best parts of being a docent at MOTE is talking with kids who were excited to see a manatee, otter, or alligator, and had great questions about the animals. The LIFE program seemed to provide the opportunity to interact with this same population in a more extensive way. I also love the idea of continuing to share the love of outdoors with other young people who may not have had the same family opportunity that I had. 

Volunteer Anne Maloney wears a bright blue shirt and dark blue pants as she leans over a picnic table to search through a white bin filled with water with a young girl, to find small aquatic insects and fish.
After dip-netting with youth at Twin Lakes Park, Anne helps them search for small, aquatic insects called macroinvertebrates to view under microscopes.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering with the ecology and natural resources program? 

There is so much to learn about the natural world in general and the natural world in southwest Florida in particular. I learn something new every time I volunteer. Spending time with staff from Sarasota County Extension, Sarasota County Parks and Recreation, and Florida State Parks has been interesting, informative, and more exciting than expected. I have also learned from the other volunteers. These volunteers have varied backgrounds and areas of specific interest or expertise, but a shared interest in and enthusiasm for nature. It is nice to spend time with like-minded people.

I have also enjoyed some of the special field trips while volunteering for the 4-H Exploring Your Environment summer camp, like visiting local ranches. Agriculture and environmental conservation partnerships are so important. 

Please share some of your favorite experiences or memories while volunteering. 

When doing a trail walk with a camp or student group, I tend to stay toward the back to keep slow walkers moving. But often the slow walkers are really the most observant. We have found interesting bugs and gopher tortoise burrows that the faster walkers missed. We have even looked up to find a hawk in a snag watching us.   

Another great memory was seeing two girls who at first really did not want to get in the cloudy water to dip net at Lemon Bay Park and Environmental Center change their perspective.  With a little encouragement and direction toward a spot that seemed to have some creatures, they waded in and were almost immediately successful in catching a small crab and a few fish. When the session was ending, they were the last out of the water.

Volunteer Anne Maloney stands at the edge of a pond next to the vegetation with a student wearing a hoodie and pants as he holds a long handled dip net.
Anne helps students use dip nets to search for small fish and aquatic macroinvertebrates at Twin Lakes Park.

A Florida Master Naturalist Program Success Story

Anne is a true success story when it comes to the Florida Master Naturalist Program. This engaging and in-depth adult education program teaches community members, educators, volunteers, and professionals alike about the precious and beautiful natural world around us, and prepares them to share that knowledge and passion for nature with others. It was through participating in this program that Anne was connected to the ecology and natural resources program, and a meaningful volunteer opportunity to share her love for the outdoors with youth. In the Master Naturalist Program, like minded people are brought together over a shared love for and interest in Florida’s unique environment, and in many cases, like Anne, are connected to exciting opportunities to get involved in the community. If you would like to learn more about this impactful program and the courses offered, visit this website. Read another program graduate’s inspiring success story here.

Thank you Anne!

For Anne, a family legacy that began with her father inspired her to not only pass on and instill a love and care for the outdoors in the next generations of her own family, but to take that even further by sharing it with the youth of our greater community. Volunteers come from all walks of life, and their unique experiences and paths give each individual  something special to contribute to the lives of others.

How You Can Become A Volunteer

Want to utilize your own skills to lend a helping hand to the ecology and natural resources program? We have something for everyone- retired educators and those who enjoy working with children will find fulfillment assisting with youth programs. If working with children does not interest you, help us table at community events, or guide adult nature walks in Sarasota County’s natural area preserves! Volunteers can also offer their wildlife and nature photography skills to capture inspiring images to be used for educational materials or provide vital administrative support. 

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, contact Dr. Katherine Clements kclements@scgov.net, to express interest and learn more about the volunteer application process. 

What To Look for Next in This Series  

Follow along with the Volunteering in Nature Series to read about how volunteer Karen Boyd uses her unique life experiences to support the ecology and natural resources program at UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County.


Zahir Ringgold Cordes, Environmental Education and Outreach Program Assistant for UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County's Ecology and Natural Resources Program
Posted: August 23, 2023

Category: Camp, Community Volunteers, Conservation, Natural Resources, UF/IFAS Extension, Work & Life
Tags: Pgm_EcoNR, Volunteer, Volunteering_in_nature

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