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Volunteer Newsletter: The Greeters at Poplar Creek

The start of a restoration workday can be a little hectic. Volunteers dash here and there, sometimes as many as 30 or 40 people, signing in, gearing up, organizing the day’s work, lining up snacks for break. The site steward or workday leader is often unloading tools, conferring with other leaders, doing a final weather check and responding to the last-minute issues that always crop up. To reduce this chaos and ensure that new volunteers don’t get lost in the fray, the Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards developed our Greeter Program.

Our “greeter” arrives at least ten minutes early. We usually have one at each workday, drawing from a rotating pool of eight. As volunteers start trickling in, greeters intentionally welcome them with a smile and hand them our sign-in sheet on a clipboard. (We suggest signing in with pencils during cold weather.) We ask first-time volunteers for their email address (so we can send them our latest newsletter), ask how they discovered us and try to get a sense of their prior restoration experience, if any. Beginning volunteers get assigned a “buddy,” who will work nearby to answer questions, offer friendly tips and conversation if desired. Volunteers often ask what the activity of the day will be so they can put on the proper footwear and layering. (Have you ever noticed how many volunteer car trunks have become mini closets?)

Several minutes prior to start-up, greeters gather the group into one big circle and verify that everyone has signed in. Workday leaders introduce themselves and make general announcements. They discuss the work to be done, the tools needed and off we go. A greeter often lags behind for about ten minutes to gather and equip any latecomers.

Partway through the workday, we take a break. We provide water (and cups) for those who don’t bring their own. Greeters bring a mix of cookies, carrots, nuts or granola bars to share. Homemade cookies or breads cause a big wave of excitement. Beyond allowing volunteers to rest from hauling brush or pulling weeds, break time enables volunteers to mingle and bond. Environmental current events, scientific discoveries, animal tracks and upcoming vacation plans are often topics of discussion. We also share thoughts on the work we are doing and any challenges we’ve encountered. Every volunteer with a question or comment is made to feel valued.

At the end of the workday, the greeter touches base with new volunteers. They also find out if the “buddy” has any pertinent information to share and relays this to the steward. The greeter also gets the sign-in sheet to whoever is responsible for entering group hours on the FPCC webpage.

Having dedicated greeters allows the leaders to get the group to work efficiently, making volunteer hours as productive as possible, and ensures that volunteers feel welcome and supported throughout the workday.

If you feel some version of the greeter concept could help your group, we would be happy to share our outline and answer any questions you might have. We feel this program has become not only an aid but a requirement for smoothly running workdays. Being intentional about welcoming volunteers and building the community is just as much a part of the workday plan as having enough tools and supplies. Efficiency, friendliness and snack—all keys to help retain volunteers!

By Jill Flexman, co-steward, Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards.