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People of the Preserves: February 2020

The Forest Preserves boasts a large network of volunteers doing incredible work all across the County like restoring habitatmonitoring plant and animal populationspatrolling our trails, supporting special events and so much more. Though many volunteers fly solo, like Trail Watch volunteers, or work in small groups, like stewardship volunteers, each individual belongs to this larger, like-minded community of people who love nature and care for the Preserves.

Jill and Dave Lata at Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center
Photo by Kris DaPra.

Jill & Dave Lata

Jill: After my first volunteer workday, I was hooked. Being married for 40 years, of course I recruited Dave! We used the preserves for years, but we didn’t really understand all that they gave back to us. There are many opportunities to perform volunteer ecological restoration in the preserves, but I like coming to Little Red Schoolhouse [Nature Center]. The staff here is wonderful and I get to be outside with a diverse group of people.

Dave: Every time we come to volunteer, I learn something new whether it’s from Karen Garrett or somebody else on staff. We enjoy coming to Little Red Schoolhouse so much that we actually make plans around workdays. One time at a Saturday [Little Red Schoolhouse] workday somebody said, “Hey, I thought you two were on vacation”. I said “Yeah, but Jill said we can’t leave until Sunday.”

Jill: The preserves are a gift to all the people of Cook County. It’s one of the wonderful things in Cook County that’s free and available to all of us. It’s home. If we ever end up moving and it’s not too far, Dave says we can still drive back. I think we’re hooked on this. 

Dave: What I try to tell volunteers when they come for the first time is, the Cook County Forest Preserve District is the largest in the nation. You can’t take it all on. But you can make your little corner of the world better for the next generation. That’s what we try to do.

John and LuAnne Dudlo at Arie Crown Forest
Photo by Kris DaPra.

LuAnne & John Dudlo

LuAnne: I feel that nature has given so much to me spiritually, and I love having the opportunity to help the plants and animals that are having such a hard time surviving nowadays.

John: Sometimes people come out to the preserves and say, “Oh look at all the green!” They don’t realize that under some of that are struggling native species, because they think if it’s green, it’s got to be good.

LuAnne: We often get high school groups that are really fun to work with. It’s very satisfying at the end of a workday when we’ve accomplished all of our goals, and the kids go home happy because they had a good time.

John: I tell the kids that volunteers in raggedy clothes aren’t necessarily there because they have nothing better to do, are retired or unemployed. Last week at our Arie Crown workday, we had three scientists, two doctors and had another person come, we would’ve had a lawyer. Ask them what they’re doing. Ask them why they’re here. Ask how long they’ve been coming so you feel akin to the people out here. We always tell volunteers, “We make the same amount of money as you do. We’re working for free. Our raise is 10% of nothing.” The kids laugh, but the adults get it, so there’s a connection.

Inspired by the photo blog Humans of New York, Kris DaPra and Joanna Huyck of the Volunteer Resources team will be working together to introduce you to your fellow volunteers. You’ll get to know the names and faces of the people (like you) without whom the preserves could simply not exist. We hope that you’ll enjoy this ongoing project, and we look forward to interviewing YOU at an upcoming workday, on your monitoring route, during your Trail Watch patrol or anywhere else you make a difference. Thank you for being a volunteer!