Time spent on the trail pays unforeseen dividends
By Casey Hayes, Chapter Services Coordinator
Working for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is a pleasure, with a benefit few jobs can offer—our mission to protect habitat for elk and other wildlife. But as staff members, there are ways we can aid in the mission outside of our respective positions. One of the more rewarding ways is also the most traditional—volunteering.
As a chapter services coordinator, I mainly provide support to the Elk Foundation’s banquet program. To better understand my role and expand my knowledge of the foundation, I decided to attend a few banquets and find out what really goes on.
After a few months, I also attended a Project Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting. A PAC is made up of lead volunteers, staff and experts from public and private agencies who allocate funds for conservation projects, using money raised at RMEF events in that state.
As I read the projects being reviewed, I noticed a familiar name and place. There was a proposal for a long-overdue thinning and burn project in the very area my father and I have hunted my entire life. For years, my father has lamented the overgrowth in the area, and now we had a solution, thanks in large part to the Elk Foundation, its volunteers and staff. My intention was to understand the PAC process, but I left with something that more than compensated for the hours spent working and volunteering for our mission.
Within a year, I attended more than a dozen banquets in Montana, Idaho and Oregon, working in whatever capacity was needed. Experiencing everything from selling memberships and raffle tickets to running the finance table and assisting in the live auction, I came to realize that while banquets are a critical fundraising tool for the organization—and chapters are always in need of help—it’s only part of the volunteer experience. That’s when I took up the challenge of participating in a fence pull.
Along with other volunteers and staff, I snipped and rolled barbwire and pulled fence posts on Mount Jumbo in Missoula. Knowing I had assisted in making life a little easier for the elk and deer on the mountain was gratifying. Later that afternoon, I drove an hour north to help with another banquet. By the end of the day, fully exhausted, I began to understand what it takes to dedicate oneself to a cause. That’s when my appreciation of the Elk Foundation’s volunteer corps was cemented.
I have learned a lot about the foundation in the past year. Volunteering has immediate rewards, both tangible and intangible. I will continue to volunteer and hope other members and staff will as well, so they may discover for themselves how volunteering is the life blood of this organization.