Naturally Impactful: Volunteers Make a Difference for CRPD
Columbus is a city that loves to volunteer. Whether that’s through donating time as a reading buddy at Columbus City Schools, being a Certified Tourism Ambassador, offering help through projects at BESA, participating in the Columbus Volunteer Challenge, or helping with the Strawberry Food Truck, thousands of you give your time and expertise to making Columbus a better place. Leslie Strader, Volunteer Services Manager for the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department has been volunteering in one way or another for most of her life and came into her role with the parks department at the beginning of this year.
“I look back now and see how my volunteer work is a reflection of where I was in life at that particular time and I can see see what was important to me,” she says. “Some of the first volunteer work I ever did was cleaning litter from the banks of various waterways in city parks with watershed groups- I was and continue to be an environmentalist at heart.”
Later in life, Strader got married and walked dogs with the Citizens for Humane Action when considering a dog. Then after her son was born still, she decided to volunteer as a wish granter for Make-A-Wish.
“It is special to be able to connect with a child that is the same age as my son would have been,” says Strader.
For those looking for meaningful ways to donate their time, the Recreation and Parks Department offers a multitude of options.
“Through the parks, we can provide that personal fulfillment an individual is looking to get from participating, whether they are passionate about health, youth, neighborhoods, hunger- related issues, environment, or disabled and senior populations.”
Jen Bowden, Director of Community Investment for IGS Energy was looking for organizations to work with to provide volunteer experiences for employees of IGS.
“Part of what we’re trying to do –in addition to bringing value to the organization we’re serving– is to educate IGS employees on great organizations doing great work in Central Ohio,” she says. “I’d previously worked with CRPD and I knew their staff to be fantastic, flexible and just really fun people. I also was aware of many of the great programs that CRPD offers and wanted to expose our employees to that work and the impact that CRPD is making here in Columbus.”
IGS is a company committed to employee volunteerism. Employees receive paid time off to volunteer for causes that are personally meaningful to them, as well as offering corporately-organized volunteer experiences at a team and department level. During the annual IGS Day of Service, the company shuts down for a day and employees spend the time giving back in their communities.
“Many of our employees had no idea what to expect from volunteering with the parks department,” continues Bowden. “They didn’t realize how far reaching the parks’ offerings were, and while beautification and litter clean up are volunteer opportunities that come to mind, the therapeutic recreation program was totally unexpected.
“IGS is clearly a great corporate citizen because they took an entire day and deployed their employees out into the community to a variety of organizations,” says Strader. “We arranged for them to visit our Therapeutic Recreation program where we always need help preparing for athletes to use the facility and were grateful they reached out to us.
For those looking for a volunteer experience with the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, Strader has categorized opportunities into four groups:
- Maintenance (litter clean-up, mulching, invasive plant removal, tree planting, playground build)
- Recreation (Coach, sports official, scorekeeper, golf course attendant, camp counselor)
- Events (Beverage sales, information, food service)
- Professional (Researcher, guest services, cashier, retail support, tutor, volunteer guardian)
Jonica Armstrong, Community Relations Manager for DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse started volunteer initiatives with the CRPD this May for DSW employees.
“The most consistent feedback we receive from associates is that they had no idea volunteers were used to execute so many of the activities and projects done throughout the city,” she says.
In May, DSW had sixteen associates donate forty-eight hours to mulch a recreation center; and in July, forty-nine associates donated 147 hours helping to run a track meet. Some of the things they were tasked with doing included timing events, running water stations, helping with administrative tasks and mulching a playground at a park.
“There’s a wide variety of volunteer positions, and we like to make sure that no matter what position a volunteer is in, they learn something new about our department and, if possible, get the chance to have a fun hands-on recreational experience,” says Strader.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer for the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, you mostly show up and sign a waiver. But, if you are going to interact with children as a coach, for example, then you will need to have a background check.
Find all of the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department’s scheduled volunteer projects online at columbus.gov/CRPDvolunteers. If you are a larger group, you can email Leslie Strader about creating a custom experience on a specific day.
Naturally Impactful is brought to you by the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, which works to enrich and change the lives of our citizens. The column is an effort to share the story of how the pillars of Health and Wellness, Conservation and Social Equity drive the work we do. Each month the column will focus on different sections of the department using these pillars to create a positive impact on our residents’ and visitors’ quality of life along with providing basic knowledge of the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, #CRPD. To find more about upcoming happenings at your Columbus Recreation and Parks, visit their Facebook page, Twitter page, or columbus.gov/recreationandparks.