Getting Involved in the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists Program: Why Mentoring Benefits Both Mentor and Student

By Susan Berry

If you have ever thought you might want to get involved in the conservation and stewardship of our local natural resources, then the Arlington Regional Master Naturalist (ARMN) program is for you! ARMN conducts a 3 ½ month basic training course for new volunteers in ecology, botany, herpetology, ornithology, forest and aquatic ecosystems and more—and the next session is coming up soon!

To support new volunteers in the program as they become certified Virginia Master Naturalists, ARMN recently started a mentorship program by asking current members to help out. Susan Berry, one of ARMN’s first mentors, shares her experience:

Photo of ARMN member Susan Berry wearing a blue bandanna standing in front of the woods

Susan Berry. Photo courtesy Pablo Nuesch.

Current ARMN members were recently asked if they’d like to serve as mentors for new ARMN trainees and graduates. From my perspective, this is an activity that has primarily benefitted me, and not just my mentees, though I certainly hope they liked the idea too. I was in the Spring 2012 ARMN class, which has the distinction of always having the lowest turnout at any ARMN holiday party or chapter meeting. We had lots of folks in the class who were already planning to move out of the area at the time of graduation. Others seemed to follow shortly thereafter. So, the opportunity to make a connection with someone from another class really intrigued me, and I signed up to be a mentor. Then, I was fortunate to be matched up first with Colt Gregory, and later with Todd Minners.

Photo of ARMN Member Colt Gregory wearing a ball cap standing in front of a flowering tree with pink flowers

Colt is (among other things) an expert on birds, while I know little about them. Therefore, I was thrilled to use mentoring time to have Colt train me. He was kind enough to take me to Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria for a personal lesson on how to use binoculars and how to look and listen for those delicate creatures that I have always found elusive. His knowledge and ability to communicate were evident on our outing. I also really enjoyed attending his graduation at the end of the ARMN basic training program, and later hearing his first ARMN presentation to the public on “Beginning Birding by Ear” at the Arlington Central Library.

Selfie photo of ARMN member Todd Minners wearing a ball cap standing next to a flowering plant

Coincidentally, my second mentee, Todd, and I signed up for the same volunteer event the week we were matched up as mentor and mentee. Once again, I knew I was the beneficiary. We had the good fortune to help Bobbi Farley, a naturalist at the Long Branch Nature Center, during the “Arlington Palooza” event where we spent several hours with kids of all ages petting the Long Branch animal pelts and marveling over the skulls of some of our local animals. Todd has lived around the world and was great at connecting with the diverse crowd, even in multiple languages. I usually consider myself to be outgoing, but Todd outdid me.

Recently, it occurred to me that Todd and Colt would have some ideas for engaging children at ARMN’s outreach events. Sometimes when ARMN has an information table at events attended by children, we find that if we can engage the children, we can usually also involve the adults, too. Todd and Colt are more comfortable than I am at engaging kids in activities. The three of us met at Long Branch and brainstormed on what would attract children to the ARMN display tables. We came up with several good ideas and I think that some of them will get us moving ahead in the future; a few might even make their way to this year’s Arlington County Fair!

Our new ARMN students have a great deal to share with us, and I was fortunate to learn a lot from Colt and Todd. So, here are two of my recommendations to current ARMN members who may be considering mentoring:

First, do it;

Second, let your mentee’s skills lead the way!

And for those of you desiring to make  a difference in your community, check out the ARMN website and apply for the next basic training course.  Applications for the next basic training session are due Aug. 1 with classes beginning on September 4.  You will find committed master naturalists and your very own mentor in the program!

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