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Giving Back 🤲

by Dr. Oakleigh Thorne, II

First Junior Ranger Naturalist Crew. Photo by Arian Hampel.

The idea of “giving back” is certainly found in what we call Community Service, where a person gives of their time to do a service for their community, whether it be for their school, church, town, or even their state or country. I believe this starts at home when you are very young and you help your mom or dad do some chores, like sweeping the kitchen floor, washing the dishes, or getting the mail from the mailbox. By doing this, you are “giving back” to your parents in your own special way for all that they have done for you. For example, they have given you life, a home, food, clothing, and love, just to name a few.

As you are growing up and beginning to look for community service opportunities that you can do in the town where you live, I’m sure you can find many. Some are ones that have been around for a long time and some are brand new.

One that started this past summer was the City of Boulder’s Junior Ranger Naturalist Pilot Program, developed by Arian Hampel, a member of the City’s Open Space & Mountain Parks (OSMP) Department. As one of his mentors, I’ve known Arian for many years. He has a deep understanding of nature, wildlife education, and outdoor skills. He wanted to share his knowledge with some of our up-and-coming youth.

This pilot program included ten youth from across Boulder County (Junior Ranger Naturalists), twelve City of Boulder Rangers, five Boulder County Rangers, two Boulder County Sheriff’s Deputies, two Environmental Educators from Colorado Parks & Wildlife, and two dedicated environmental educators from the Boulder community. The goal was to help youth 14-17 years of age to develop professional outdoor skills and then apply them in the field with the rangers.

They signed a pledge: “I, on my honor, will respect my coworkers, my community, OSMP property, and the flora and fauna that inhabit the area. I will work with integrity and good character to protect the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions. I will share what I learn with others and help preserve and protect these natural areas for future generations. I will work cooperatively as a team member to ensure we are successful as a Junior Ranger Naturalist crew. I will follow safety instructions, assist the crew in completing all tasks, and bring a positive attitude to work each day.”

The program was a great success. One of the Junior Ranger Naturalists said, “This program gave me a deeper appreciation for all the natural world in general. The things we learned regarding biology and animal ecology as well as botany were very eye-opening.”

The participants were later divided into small teams and went on patrol with City of Boulder OSMP Rangers. This gave them a chance to see the day-to-day responsibilities of rangers and how they are expected to interact with the public. They also got to know the rangers better. It was indeed a good introduction to the natural resources field and the variety of jobs available.

As you go through elementary, middle, and high school, it will be important to seek various community service activities. The more you give back to your community, the more in many ways you learn to be an effective member of it.

When you finally get to the point of applying for college, your community service activities will be important to the admissions office. You may have very high grades and good test scores, but you also need to have shown excellent service skills and participation. Colleges are looking for “well-rounded” students who have been outstanding service-orientated members of their community, ones who are concerned about others and used to “giving back.” I truly believe that if you are this kind of a person, you will have a very happy life. You will learn that it is certainly better to give than to receive!

Dr. Thorne is founder and honorary president of Thorne Ecological Institute in Boulder. They have helped “connect kids to nature” for more than 55 years. For more information about Thorne Natural Science School classes for children, check or e-mail or call (303) 499-3647.

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