Thursday, June 13, 2013

Indiana Master Naturalist Program

We have a GUEST POST today by Monica Yoder. Each week during my Indiana Master Naturalist training, she was there helping our class, being an example, and mentoring us as we went through the learning process. I started Inside Outside Michiana shortly after I finished my training, wishing all these cool nature events were on one calendar, rather than scouring 8-10 (now more!) newsletters and other online sources for neat programs. I also wanted to give a voice to nature in the area and help others experience a bit of what I was learning in my classes. I've been helping with a Jr. Indiana Master Naturalist day camp all week (hence fewer posts) and I'm reminded of the power of this program to empower people to learn about nature in our community and to give back! Word on the street is that classes will start after Labor Day  and will be on Thursdays from 3:30 to 7:30pm at various locations around Elkhart County. The cost is about $175; however, I received a new book many weeks and now have a great reference library to go with my learning and volunteer service. They do not advertise this, yet I find this to be a great benefit to the program. Some might ask how to fit this in to a busy work schedule . . . some arranged with their bosses to come in early and leave work a little early for the classes. To be honest, attending this came down to scheduling--it basically worked on a time/day that I usually could have childcare. It was nice to have a little "me" time, dedicating time to learning more about something of interest. I really 
enjoyed meeting people and making friendships with others who had similar interests. 

Monica Yoder lives, works, gardens and volunteers in downtown Middlebury.  She is a member of Friends of Middlebury Parks and currently serves on the Middlebury Park Board.  In addition she is 2007 graduate of the Elkhart County Master Naturalist Program and serves on the IMN Steering Committee.

Indiana Master Naturalist
“Many hands make light the work.”  This old adage is especially true on how volunteers impact workdays and programs sponsored by city, county and state parks and other educational organizations.  A few hours given by a generous volunteer can mean kids learn how and why to plant a tree, benches, swings and buildings can have a fresh coat of paint and flowering bulbs planted in the fall become spring flowers.  If only there were more hands, right? The good news is we are gaining!

Since 2007 over 5,600 hours of volunteer service have been performed in and around Elkhart County by the enthusiastic and generous folks who have participated in the Indiana Master Naturalist Program.  Administrated locally by Elkhart County Soils and Water District (SWCD) headquartered in Goshen, this state wide program was developed by DNR and its partners to better acquaint adults 18 years of age and older with Indiana’s great outdoors while encouraging them to volunteer at the many state, county and city parks as well as other not for profit natural resources agencies in need of hands to help with teaching, upkeep, outreach, and more!   Elkhart County SWCD began this program by partnering with such entities as Elkhart County Parks, Elkhart Environmental Center and Middlebury Parks, to name a few, resulting in more volunteers for all.  Over 1,700 hours of service where given in 2012.

The Elkhart County Indiana Master Naturalist Program is an eleven session discovery course, running between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. Twenty participants meet weekly for three hours of instruction in such topics as geology, soils, water and wetlands, mammals, birds, fish, insects, forestry, conservation and botany.  Local naturalists and environmental educators, experts in their fields of study, teach the various subjects at a different park or natural resource sight each week giving students an eleven week “tour” of the many wonderful places of beauty, history, learning and recreation Elkhart County has to offer.  Included in the fee for the class is a weekly field guide or related  book  along with information,  access to the best resources for nature studies in the county and the opportunity to connect with interesting folks who share both common interests while introducing you a whole new world of ideas, networking and friendships.

Upon completion participants are asked to perform 27 hours of volunteer work for a not for profit natural resource agency.  These volunteer hours may consist of anything from garden or landscape design or up keep, invasive plant removal, teaching, brochure or website design, writing news releases or articles, developing or assisting with programs or festivals, or taking photos to serving on committees and board of directors.  Energizing and empowering citizens to volunteer at the local level are goals of the program…and hopefully the result is more helping hands in our future! 

For information on the Elkhart County Master Naturalist Program, please contact Nancy Brown at Elkhart County Soils and Water District at (574)533-3630, ext. 3 or ,check out the state website at .