National Parks 100th Birthday Volunteer

ranger leading family on tide pool exploration in National Park

Redwood National Park Tide Pool Tour with Ranger. Photo: NPS

2016 is the centennial of the National Park Service–the actual date of the birth of the countrywide system of great green and urban spaces, is August 25…but don’t wait to get outside and enjoy…and maybe give back a little while you’re at it.

I forget, in my hurried day-to-day life, that the wondrous wild places I so fondly remember visiting (and look forward to many more visits) on family vacations and cross-country driving trips, are more than just stunning vacation spots–they are smoothly run enterprises of commitment to community and culture and the environment…AND…they have extensive volunteer programs.

As a National Parks volunteer, you can pop in for a one-shot deal to help with a program, or if you’re lucky enough to live near such sacred spots, there are ongoing opportunities. Kids, families, individuals…all will find rewarding service work in the parks. If you’re super motivated, and volunteer 250 hours of service to the parks and/or other federal agencies that participate, you can be eligible for the Annual Volunteer Pass. This pass is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Each pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation.

To find your V.I.P. (Volunteers in Parks) opportunity, from Yellowstone to the Statue of Liberty, the Everglades to Mount Rainier, you can search by park, state, or zip code. Many of the needs are seasonal, but some are year-round, and while a certain level of fitness or endurance may be required for some gigs, there is plenty to volunteer for that requires less energy as well. Visit the Park Service website and look around a bit, get re-inspired for some next visit plans, and find a way to be the boots on the ground folks who keep the parks the treasures that they are.

For birthday bashes, here is a link to Centennial Programs happening all year. Don’t miss out take a picnic lunch with cake at the Grand Canyon or blow out candles before diving in the Channel Islands. There are more national parks than states in the nation of ours – find one near you or near where your next travel plans will lead. (Find Your Park link)

On Equal Pay Day Commit to Volunteering for Women

Today is Equal Pay Day, one of those oops-we’re-doing-it-wrong shake your head sorts of days…it is the day each year when a woman’s earnings from the year before would finally catch up to one year of a man’s earnings doing the same work.

Yep, still true, it takes until April for a woman to earn what a guy took home by last December. On average, full-time working women still only make about 79 cents to a dollar for a man (better than the 72 cents of a few years ago, but c’mon…really?)

The wage gap costs the average full-time working woman about $430,000 dollars over her lifetime. Here’s the perplexing other side of the coin, and I know we’re all ramped up about minimum wages and unskilled labor making more than military, and those are entirely separate issues (about which…surprise…I have some very specific views…) but if we CLOSE the wage gap, we could add as much as $4.3 trillion dollars to the U.S. economy by the year 2025.

Since that closing of the gap won’t happen today, in the meantime, while you add your name to this petition to stand up for equal pay, here are a few volunteer opportunities around the world that you might consider that are dedicated to equality for women:

Volunteer at Marine Mammal Care Center

seal pup close up

Photo: marinemammalcare.org

I had a wonderful experience this morning and want to share.

A couple of years ago I picked up a pamphlet for the Marine Mamma Care Center at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, CA. I stuffed it into the ever-growing pile of information I always grab up about possible volunteer opportunities to explore and share, and sadly, I sort of forgot about it.

I recently randomly checked out their website and found their WISH LIST for needed donation items, and realized we had some things that would go to great use for them, and support the animals they rescue and rehabilitate.

Those animals are the all-too-many seals and sea lions that are stranded along the Los Angeles coastline. The MMCC functions as a hospital for sick and injured marine mammals and it is a great program serving a huge need.

With El Nino weather conditions, we tend to think of it just happening this year with some storms finally bringing much needed rain, but ocean water temperatures have been warmer than usual–an El Nino condition–for a couple of years. The warmer water creates some crisis conditions for seals and sea lions. The fish they usually feed on close to the coast are being driven farther out and deeper down, since they cannot thrive in the warmer ocean water. This means that mother pinnipeds (the center mostly treats California sea lions, northern elephant seals, Pacific harbor seals, and northern fur seals) have to go away to forage farther and for longer periods of time to find enough food to sustain themselves and produce milk for their babies. The pups are left on beaches for too long while adults search, sometimes orphaned, often malnourished. When a pup can no longer sustain itself and is starving, Animal Control or other agencies brings them to MMCC for care. Additionally, fishing line, nets, and other injurious human interactions take their toll.

An average year sees about 350 patients at the center…the past two years have exceeded 700. It’s a big deal and a big job.

I love this place. Some of the many animals, both young and mature, are frolicking like you’d hope, slipping in and out of pools of water, barking, feeding–these are getting close to being released back into the ocean. Others are newly arrived, in a quiet zone, while some pretty intensive care is administered trying to nurse them back to health and viability. With as much struggle as these little guys and gals go through, I expected a pretty somber mortality rate, but surprisingly they lose only a few. A few more are deemed unreleasable and find homes at aquariums and other facilities (all of the disposition is handled by the US Government…where, when, how many get transferred to which places).

If you’re local to the Los Angeles area and are looking for a rewarding volunteer gig, check out the opportunities, from docents educating children and adult guests and field trip classes, to folks doing animal husbandry in the back and keeping things clean and running smoothly, there is always a need for more big-hearted volunteers. I suspect it can be tough work, but I bet you, like me, won’t be able to wipe the smile off your face. If you’re local or traveling to the L.A. region and want to visit to learn more about the several species under their care and see them, there are educational docents there to show you around and answer all your questions from 10am to 4pm, and they are open 365 days a year. Check them out, support their work, and you too, will have a perma-grin.

Do Your Due Diligence – Give Well

coins stacked up in pilesSo many of us are staring the Tax Man down in these last weeks running up to April 15, and one of the deduction categories I am always wishing my wallet would allow me to use more is Charitable Contributions. I was able to donate more in 2015 than in some previous years, but wish I could support every race, walk, dance-a-thin, head shaving event, GoFundMe, Kickstarter, and volunteer gig that every one of my friends undertakes as well as the many issues and organizations to which I am already loyal.

When you are donating to a good cause, especially if it is new to you (or one you think you’ve understood for a long time…witness trouble with some of the largest charities in our country and how much of their donated money actually goes toward their mission), do you dig in a  little and find out more about them before you hit the digital PAY button or write your check? Please do–it is easier than ever to get the skinny on charities and non-profits.

One terrific tool to use is the online site GiveWell.com. Give Well is like other charity scoring organizations, but perhaps a bit more faceted and nuanced than the review sites that simply break down dollars toward overhead, administration, and service. Give Well focuses on a more modest number of charities for its examination—the ones they feel are most likely to succeed and best accomplish their mission. Then they take a deep dive and ferret out how an organization does on many levels, not just spending, but how they genuinely impact the world. Their analysis is evidence-based and thoroughly vetted, inclusive of open and transparent conversations with the organization themselves (instead of coming from a secret shopper separate status). Site visits and interviews with stakeholders mean the heart-driven business of a non-profit is not judged like a high schoolers GPA–numbers alone rarely tell the story we care most about–but on real change.

Check out the site, discover something new to engage your passion, and share what you find! We’d love to hear about what fires you up in the comments below.

Earth Hour 2016 – Turn Off the Lights

digital banner for 2016 Earth Hour for climate changeGeez–we just had to re-set our clocks, switch out batteries in our smoke detectors, and now we’re supposed to turn off all the lights in our homes and workplaces for an hour?! Enough with the household appliances and devices–you’re cramping my style, Good Karma! Back off!

OK, tomorrow I can do this, but if you tell me I have to drive backwards for a week or something similar, we’re going to have to sit down and talk about this. But tomorrow, Saturday, March 19, is Earth Hour, from 8:30-9:30pm your time, in whatever timezone you inhabit. For that hour, join the people of 172 nations and turn off your lights. You won’t be alone–households around the world as well as businesses, landmarks, corporate buildings, and more will all go dark to shed some light on climate issues. One dark hour…and hopefully many, many conversations sparked among your family and friends, about how to make a change.

Your commitment to the planet, and thereby to all of us (thank you) is huge, and easily displayed by this dimming of lights.

Use your power to change climate change.

Watch the videos below for the 2016 campaign and highlights of 2015 Earth Hour.

Voluntourism, Killer Whales, and SeaWorld’s Tilikum

adult and young orcas in wild

Photo: Christopher Michel – CC License

You’ve likely seen, or at least heard about the documentary Blackfish, exploring the life and striving times of captive killer whales, or orcas, at SeaWorld marine parks. While SeaWorld has been goaded by the resulting uproar into some changes in planned habitat restructuring and living conditions for their largest resident animals, there are many who feel captive orcas can never be appropriate.

The main storyline of the film focuses on a particular whale named Tilikum. This 35-year-old cetacean over-earned the “killer” moniker by being responsible for the deaths of three people while in captivity for more than two decades. Now, SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida has announced that Tilikum has an infection from which he will not recover, and he is in declining health. It’s a rough life in a cement pool too small for comfort, no matter how attentive the care (and, to be fair, SeaWorld’s staff caretakers and medics are dedicated and skilled animal lovers) and many believe it has been tantamount to torturing the whale for the majority of his life.

The flip side of this difficult coin is the marine study of orcas in their natural habitat, like this brand new volunteer expedition from Earthwatch: Killer Whales and Their Prey in Iceland. The first of several offerings of this 12-day voluntourism service trip is offered in June of 2017, where you will help study the feeding behavior of orcas in Vestmannaeyjar in the Westman Islands in the south of Iceland. Some of your time will be on shore, some on boats, as you scan for whales and take detailed scientific research notes on behavior of individual whales. You’ll be thoroughly trained and also get up close and personal as you assist the scientist research team to collect small (non-harming) skin and blubber samples from whales to biopsy and record diet, pollutant levels, and genetic information. You’ll be living at the research field station in dormitory accommodations, cooking and sharing time and laughs with your fellow volunteers.

This is a leading study of the species, and, like all Earthwatch volunteer opportunities, the work you do actually advances scientific understanding–this work, in particular, will help establish policies to better protect killer whales.

International Women’s Day Pledge for Parity

International Women's Day logo with women in crowdHappy International Women’s Day.

This day of celebration of the global women’s community happens every March 8. It was established in 1911 as a day of recognition for the progress in every field of life and livelihood of women across all cultural lines. In China, Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, it is even a national holiday.

Womens’ rights, stepped on in so many societies, are HUMAN RIGHTS, and can be nothing but a priority for all.

There are thousands of events today around the world—the Global United Nations theme for today (and for celebrating women throughout the month of March) is: Pledge for Parity. The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then one year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133.

Annually on 8 March, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women AND men and celebrate achievements. “A global web of rich and diverse local activity connects women from all around the world ranging from political rallies, business conferences, government activities, and networking events through to local women’s craft markets, theatrical performances, fashion parades, and more.”

Make every day International Women’s Day and find ways to celebrate women and girls, strive to narrow the gap between all persons, and promise to make equality for all achievable in our lifetime. Just because it has never been done doesn’t mean it cannot be done. It both can and will–we’ve grown far too intelligent to still believe the falsehoods of our past that suggested any person is less than another.