Barb Ferry has been volunteering with the Forest Preserve District for more than 15 years, taking on various projects and responsibilities, but it all started with a chance meeting at a local HomeGoods store.
There she ran into an old friend, Renee Gauchat, the District’s volunteer supervisor, who gave Ferry her business card and told her to give her a call. She did and, after an interview during a trail hike, she was on board as a volunteer.
“The rest, as they say, is history,” said Ferry, who volunteers doing outreach for the District.
She said she enjoys the work because she likes talking to new people and it also allows her to share her passion for preserving our wooded ecosystems.
“I get to meet many different prospective volunteers, tell those who come to our information table about the programs we offer, answer questions and encourage young people to assist us in resource management efforts and by helping out at programs for service hours.”
She serves as something of a matchmaker for potential volunteers.
“I try to find a fit for a potential volunteer, meaning I ask what they like to do and see if there’s a spot for them,” she said. One example of this would be asking people who enjoy biking if they want to volunteer as trail sentinels. “I provide a brief description of the duties, explain that it’s an easy way to give back and keep the trails safe, and most of the times they’re really considering the idea.”
She’s also willing to help people who aren’t sure what they might be best suited for to find a good opportunity. “If they don’t know what they’d like to do, I invite them to a program and tell them to see firsthand the many areas in which volunteers serve.”
For Ferry, volunteering with the District is a chance to grow as a person and try new things, which keeps it interesting.
“You can explore different aspects within programs and this keeps you from getting stuck in one spot,” she said. “I started at Monee Reservoir, then at Isle a la Cache Museum, and now I wear many different hats. I like the diversity. It keeps things fresh.”
Her interest in the outdoors is lifelong. She remembers taking trips as a child with her brother, visiting different state parks in Illinois and the surrounding states. That sparked her interest in insects, ecology and the environment, and she taught herself a lot just by reading books. Once she started her family, that interest resurfaced and she encouraged that same love of the outdoors in her own kids.
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Some of her volunteer work for the District ties into her love of insects and ecology. In fact, one of her most recent projects was creating, along with a few District employees, a portable pollinator display. Ferry got started on the project because she raises Monarch butterflies and she saw it as an opportunity to educate people about the importance of the creatures as well as their decreasing populations.
“The display shows some common pollinators, their host and nectar plants and the life cycle of a butterfly,” she said. “If I have any caterpillars or chrysalides and plants, I bring them to the event where I’m volunteering and this enhances the display. It’s great to see the reactions when a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, something many don’t get the chance to view.”
Ferry is now retired from her job as a teacher aide, which gives her even more opportunities to expand her horizons through volunteering. One of things she has most recently become involved in is the historical interpretations at Isle a la Cache. She is in the process of developing a character and an outfit she can use for these events, and looks forward to being able to help when school groups visit the museum for field trips and other educational events.
In addition to volunteering with the District, she has also helped out with a tutoring program at her church, and with story time and craft time in the classroom where she worked as an aide. She said she finds all of these opportunities rewarding, and feels a sense of pride from giving back to her community.
Ferry explained that the Forest Preserve District is a great place to volunteer because it’s a way to keep learning and sharing knowledge, plus the volunteers feel like a family.
“Where else can you be outside, restore woodlands and prairies, monitor insects, flowers and water creatures, and have a great time,” she said. “When we get done with a workday and the end result is amazing, everyone feels good about it. Even the kids get excited to see what they have accomplished. It’s a good feeling.”
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