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People of the Preserves: August 2021

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.

Sai Ramakrishna in the Forest Preserves of Cook County.
Photo by Kris DaPra.

Sai Ramakrishna

“I used to be research faculty at Northwestern University in theoretical chemistry, but I was sort of losing interest. I had done my publications and so on, and when I saw this opportunity to volunteer, I took an early retirement to really focus on this work. My wife very readily decided to support me, bless her heart.

“Ecological work is something that’s always been close to my heart, even when I was growing up in India. I think my love of the environment is part nature, part nurture. I grew up in a highly urbanized concrete jungle. There was no greenery. We had a few small parks where my mother would show me plants. I knew there were forests and jungles out there and I always thought about them and dreamed of seeing animals as a kid. As I grew up, I saw more and more of the natural world being destroyed. I was amazed that here in Cook County just normal folks can get involved and volunteer doing something like this. I think this kind of partnership between the Forest Preserves and citizens is just amazing. It’s extraordinary and should be duplicated all over the US, and really all over the world if you ask me.

“If you love nature and want to see that it’s being restored, here is an opportunity to be a part of it. I encourage people to drop all inhibitions and just come. There are all kinds of nice courses being offered by the District, and I’ve taken most of them and enjoyed them. I also encourage people to get the certifications so they can really play a complete part in this restoration process.”

Tamia Kimmons in the Forest Preserves of Cook County
Photo by Kris DaPra.

Tamia Kimmons

“This is my fourth summer with Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps and I was actually contacted about being an Assistant Crew Leader now that I’m of age. It’s different than being a crew member because you really develop leadership skills. I think that’s something that I lacked. I was always kind of following other people rather than taking a role where I had to instruct others or be somebody people looked up to. That was a huge change for me this summer but it’s been really rewarding.  

“Before, I used to look at a prairie and just see a lot of grass or go to the woods and see a lot of trees. But once you start to learn how individual plants function in the greater scheme of things, you don’t just see another plant. We better appreciate what we understand.  

“I want to take what I’ve learned in the environmental field and learn more about talk therapy to somehow incorporate both into a career. I’d love to find an internship at a rehab facility and instead of being a therapist in an office all day, exploring how nature can heal the mind, body, and soul. I’ve learned that there are so many routes to take in life. I’ve had many people talk to me about working in the green field and found that it doesn’t always have to be the route of environmental science or marine biology. I wouldn’t have known about all the possibilities without this opportunity.”  

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!