Winner to be announced at Illinois State Fair Aug. 18
(Aug. 9, 2022) — A DuPage Forest Preserve District volunteer program started during the COVID-19 pandemic is one of four finalists for the Illinois Governor’s Hometown Award.
The pop-up program hosted 115 volunteer events from January to December 2021 in various DuPage forest preserves and provided socially distanced outdoor opportunities for people to connect with nature and each other. It attracted more than 1,000 volunteers, who provided 2,169 total service hours, saving DuPage taxpayers $67,173.93.
The Forest Preserve District began the program because the pandemic displaced many regular volunteers and placed extra burdens on staff. Volunteers helped mulch, harvest seeds, build prairies, weed, maintain wetlands, cut brush, pick up litter, paint, and remove fences.
“Many who lived alone or away from family during this time had little opportunity to interact with others,” said Anna Bakker, the Forest Preserve District volunteer services field liaison who organized the program. “Our program provided volunteers an outlet to socialize, build friendships, improve mental wellbeing through exposure to nature, and improve fitness since events offered varying levels of exercise that could be modified for most individuals,” Bakker added.
“In the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the District yet again saw record attendance with over 6 million visitors to our forest preserves,” said Forest Preserve District President Daniel Hebreard. “With the increasing demand for programs, events, and recreational experiences, the need for our volunteers’ time and talents was higher than ever. Without the creation of this pop-up program, the extra burden on staff could not have been mitigated,” he explained.
The winner will be announced at the Illinois State Fair on Aug. 18. If the Forest Preserve District wins, it will receive a plaque and road sign designating the District as a Governor’s Hometown Award recipient.
Since 1983 the Governor’s Hometown Award program has given formal recognition to those who have contributed to projects that improved their communities’ quality of life.
More information about DuPage Forest Preserve District volunteer opportunities is available at dupageforest.org/get-involved/volunteer.