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Volunteer Spotlight: Emily Kenny's Extra Eyes and Ears for the District

Photo for: Volunteer Spotlight: Emily Kenny

Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock

Emily Kenny’s time spent volunteering with the Forest Preserve District has included so many different tasks that she’s become a familiar face to many employees, fellow volunteers and visitors over the past 18 years.

Kenny leads the District’s employee first aid, CPR and defibrillator training as well as other training programs, so many people have come to know her from attending these courses. She is also one of a small group of volunteer coordinators, and helps at events. On top of these duties, she serves as a District trail sentinel. 

In fact, she was one of the Forest Preserve’s first trail sentinels. You may see Kenny and other sentinels along the District’s many miles of trails, wearing bright vests while they walk or bike.

“Trail sentinels provide extra eyes and ears for the District,” she said. “We report any issues we might see, deter inappropriate behaviors just from our presence and answer questions (visitors) ask.”

She encouraged anyone who is a regular user of the trails to apply to be a sentinel to help the District in keeping them safe and maintained.

Kenny’s early years as a Forest Preserve volunteer were mainly spent at Hickory Creek’s LaPorte Road Access, because it was down the road from where she worked. These days though, you can find her just about anywhere within the District’s preserves and trails.

However, she does admit that through her years as a volunteer, she’s become partial to a few properties in particular. She said she loves the environmental diversity you can find at Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve, and she enjoys the bluebells when they are in bloom at Messenger Woods. 


Professionally, she works as an environmental educator, having earned a degree in environmental studies. While her work and education do dovetail nicely with her volunteer roles, she finds there isn’t too much overlap, which allows her to further expand her horizons.

“Working with a wide variety of ages, abilities and backgrounds professionally definitely helps when volunteering,” she said.

And sometimes her education and work experience are a plus as well. 

“When I helped with the plant sale, my knowledge of native plants was helpful,” she said. 

What she enjoys about volunteering is that she can choose from different tasks and activities, each being unique from the others, some being more passive while others are demanding. “It allows me to do things I like while giving back,” she explained.

Her other interests and hobbies also tie into her work and volunteer roles. Kenny said she goes backpacking every year and also enjoys biking. Overall, she said, she tries to live a green lifestyle.  

The camaraderie of volunteering is also a plus for her. She said one of her favorite events each year is the District’s annual summer picnic, held each August. She attends with her family and turns it into a birthday celebration of sorts for several family members who have birthdays that month.

“It’s a nice treat where paid and unpaid staff can socialize, eat and play,” she said.


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