Plant Talk

Three Cheers for NYBG Volunteers!

Posted in History & People on May 13, 2022, by Jade Johnson

Jade Johnson is Volunteer Services Coordinator at The New York Botanical Garden.

A woman in a white shirt and blue pants bends down to tend to bright orange flowers among green foliage

Neely Bower in the Perennial Garden

The New York Botanical Garden is not only a place, but also a community of diverse staff, members, patrons, external partners, visitors—and volunteers, who currently number 334 in active roles. This number has been rising steadily since the Garden gradually resumed on-site volunteering activities in July 2021, with more than 77,000 service hours contributed. They can be found in almost every corner of the Garden, from leading tours for the general public to mounting specimens in our Herbarium. Each one is a committed advocate for the plant world and supports the Garden’s tri-partite mission in plant science and conservation, horticulture, and education.

They dedicate their time and passion to create a lasting impact on the Garden. In the words of Nami Kaur, who volunteers for our many public programs and as a Roaming Guide, “I march to the belief that I am one of the many NYBG Brand Ambassadors, and my mission is to enhance the visitor’s joyful experience of our beloved Garden!” Volunteer Greeters such as Rosario Osegueda engage visitors and help them discover the Garden’s wonders. Behind the scenes, volunteers such as Jocelyn Perez help digitize thousands of lichen specimens for the Steere Herbarium.

An antique photo of two little girls posing in a garden setting, labeled "April 1961"

Margaret Murphy (left) visiting the Garden as a child in 1961

The Garden is also an important place for our volunteers. Some of them have had long-term relationships with the Garden such as Margaret Murphy, who grew up a few blocks away and visited every Sunday with her family; she remembers ice skating on Twin Lakes in the 1960s. Today she collects important phenology data in our 50-acre Thain Family Forest. Similarly another citizen scientist and Tour Guide Joanne Strauss frequently visited when she was young and purchased her own membership upon entering college. It was her mother who encouraged her to volunteer here more than 20 years ago when she entered the Master Composter program.

Our volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds. Some started in the Children’s Gardening Program at the Edible Academy and have chosen to stay and transition into volunteering once they turn 14. Banker Rick Jones found he could share his love of science and botany as a Tour Guide. Others have volunteered for decades such as Neely Bower, who started in 1994 and now gardens with Horticulture in the Perennial Garden. Deborah Beck started volunteering in NYBG Shop in December 2021, and has discovered the pleasure in helping staff and visitors who rely on her during some of the Shop’s busiest days. Marcia Strean started leading tours in the Native Plant Garden at age 80, sharing, “If volunteers are good for the Garden, even greater good was done for me. I can’t recommend more highly participation for all of us who have the time and interest to give of ourselves.”

Each one of our hundreds of volunteers has a special story to share and we are grateful for their meaningful contributions to the Garden’s sustained success.

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