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Virginia NRCS honors contributions from volunteers

usdaWhile the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service traditionally recognizes its Earth Team volunteers during National Volunteer Week, the program and the celebration have a different look this year..

The COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing since early in 2020, created some significant challenges for staff seeking to sustain the program in offices that were closed to the public. This year’s theme – “Virtual Volunteering” – is particularly appropriate as we used Earth Team volunteers for ongoing field work and explored creative approaches retain and sustain this vital work force.

Virginia’s Earth Team was a compact but potent force in 2020, with 654 individuals  contributing 5,608 volunteer work hours in the state’s 41 field offices and the State Office. While those numbers are significantly lower than the 2019 totals of 1,800 volunteers donating 16,000 hours, the value of time volunteered in 2020 nevertheless tallied up to more than $159,000.

“Virginia is a strong supporter of the Earth Team with a robust program that regularly ranking in the top 10 states for hours donated over the past five years,” said Dr. Edwin Martinez Martinez, state conservationist. “Though our numbers dropped in 2020, our commitment has not wavered and we continue to explore new and creative ways to engage virtual and in person volunteers in 2021.”

Created in 1985, the Earth Team offers opportunities to volunteers aged 14 and over to work alongside NRCS staff to provide conservation services to private landowners and the public. These services can include technical assistance, office support and generating awareness about the rewards of conservation through community projects.

During National Volunteer Week, we’ll spotlight the following outstanding Virginia volunteers and their contributions to their communities and to the cause of conserving our natural resources:

  • David Pace, a 50-year-old National Guard master sergeant who’s approaching retirement from the military. He signed on with NRCS’ Warrenton field office to get a closer look at our agency and has made a notable impact in a short time.
  • Kathy Holm, Alexandra Schmidt and Liz Ortiz are employees at NRCS’ Harrisonburg field office who gave of their time to work multiple volunteer shifts at a busy COVID vaccination clinic in nearby Augusta County.
  • Keith Thomas, a 28-year-old with a talent for computer science who took on the challenge of replacing a troublesome application that modeled the efficiency of various grazing systems. VA Graz, a tool developed by Thomas, is now in use throughout the state by NRCS and other allied agencies. Thomas was selected as Virginia’s individual Earth Team Volunteer of the Year for 2020.

Visit our website to learn more about the Virginia Earth Team Program. Contact NRCS State Volunteer Coordinator Barbara Bowen via email or reach out to your designated NRCS service center to get more information on local service opportunities.

*Note: The value of volunteer time to the agency in Virginia is $28.46 per hour as established by the Independent Sector and utilized by the Federal Interagency Team for Volunteerism.

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