Wednesday, November 14, 2012

RV Volunteer

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I can’t understand the government volunteer system. The ranks of volunteers for the National Park and National Forest Service seem to be growing rapidly. It sounds like a win-win situation for both seniors looking to volunteer and the government in a budget crisis. I completely understand the theory of supply and demand, but I do not understand rudeness. My husband and I have submitted volunteer applications to several parks offering to do most anything they need. It’s as if the applications go into a black hole. We have come to expect no communications from the Park Service, not even a “Thanks." This attitude will to some degree kill the goose that laid the golden egg if they continue to treat this "manna from heaven" help with such disregard. Am I right or am I just becoming an old curmudgeon? Maybe I am old fashioned, but I think even a form letter letting people know where they stand in the volunteer line would be nothing less than courteous.
 --Out of Line in Laredo

Dear Outy:
I have heard this complaint often lately. I know that places like Glacier National Park have hundreds of volunteer applicants that they cannot place every season. Many sunbelt parks have even more. They have many people who will commit to a longer term service and those who are already networked in from past service. These volunteers usually take precedence over new applicants. I think it is great that state and local governments have this resource of volunteers to draw from, but I agree that they should work on their communications. Most applications are made online and therefore could be efficiently kept informed the same way as to their chances of capturing a volunteer position.  It is a numbers game. Over 10,000 people will reach retirement age every day for the next 20 years. That is why you see all your favorite campgrounds filled, even during the off season and shoulder seasons. This same demographic is swelling the volunteer ranks. My only advice would be, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Get on the phone, find out who is making the decision on positions you are interested in and open some dialog.   My wife and I worked our way around the country for several years in our 20s and 30s. We never got a job by saying, “No.” If we were asked if we had experience doing something, we always said, “Yes.” It was only a little white lie until the first day on the job. I ran a D8 bulldozer in Alaska for about two hours one day before the boss came over and said, “You’ve never run a bulldozer before have you? I said, “I can’t say that anymore!” Since the government facilities are getting avalanched with applicants, you need to be the one to force communication. I know it seems odd to scramble for a volunteer position, but that is exactly what other applicants are doing to snag the positions they are interested in.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink


Curmudgeon John said...

I have volunteered for six summers since I retired, 5 for the National Park Service and 1 for US Fish and Wildlife. I have another job lined up for Spring/Summer 2013.

The reason the NPS doesn't answer all the applications is the same reason they need volunteers--shortage of personnel. NPS ' budget was cut every year under the Bush administration and, while not cut, has not seen major increases in years. Rangers are, by and large, very dedicated people who are often overwhelmed by the amount they have to do. To add to their burden of responding to every person expressing interest in volunteering is way over the top. If you are so interested in volunteering , go out of your way--call, write, visit to seek out appropriate Ranger at a Park at which you wish to volunteer. Even with a resume, listing all my prior experience including the volunteering I do when not working with the NPS, I often never hear from places I submit an online response from So , yes you are asking way too much of a woefully understaffed organizaton, the NPS.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that it is government employees that are running the problem, they unlike "regular" citizens beleive themselfs above on the food chain. TOO BAD, BUT THAT'S OUR CURRENT SITUATION.

Bob H said...

I am a full-time RVer. I volunteer regularly and I am always applying for jobs in the future. I agree with Curmudgeon John that you have to follow-up not just wait for a response. However, I have other complaints about the "on line system":

1. "On-line" is a joke when all you can do is download and print a paper application to fill out and mail in.

2. The application forms are typical "one size that doesn't fit anyone". They give you one inch for your life experience and five inches for your zip code. Most RVers and worKampers travel and work as couples, but the forms are for one person, thus requiring two.

I receive some courtesy negative replies, but not all, and I am OK with that. I operate under the assumption that if I don't hear it is because they haven't gotten to my email -- so I send it it again and maybe again, then telephone.

I am convinced that the situation is now that there are more applicants than jobs and more than limited staff can handle. So just like your former work life, you have to make yourself stand out.

walt66 said...

We've worked for BLM on numerous occasions. The responses range from none to next day after posting on line. BLM may be different from NPS because they have a person who works as a volunteer liaison. We have also worked in the private sector where we have volunteered at campgrounds as well. same results. Just keep trying and don't take it personally. We send out volunteer notices to several areas, that we if they respond WE can pick and choose.

ontheroadagain from Idaho said...

Anonymous: As a retired government employee I strongly disagree. As Curmudgeon John said the government workers are always understaffed and overworked. Most government workers give extra hours (for free) on a regular basis to just try to get the job done. For 30 years I got paid for 40 hour weeks and generally worked at least 50. Give them a break - show up and offer to help them with their current task. If you are a good worker (and keep your mouth shut) they may ask you to stay.

Fox said...

Although it is unfortunate .. you said it right in your article that they get 1000's of applications each year in each park... if they answered everyone this would require a full time person to do... and as a previous poster said they just dont have the manpower.
(just did my first year as a CG host in Banff National Park)

Anonymous said...

We volunteered for almost 20 years. We actually did best by just walking into local offices,ranger stations, etc and just asking if they needed anyone. We worked for NPS, State Parks and U.S. Forest Service. Ga. State Parks use many volunteers and always seem to have openings if you aren't particular as to which part of the state you work in.

Jon Hubbell said...

As a 36-year government employee, I say that what "Anonymous" said is crap. Government employees work just as hard as "private" employees. Every occupation & business has its sluffers, but by enlarge, most people work hard and with pride at what they do. If "Anonymous" is so proud of what he/she has to say, fess up to who you are - sign your name.

DNPC said...

I don't believe the comments by "anonymous" have any basis in fact. We've full timed for eight years and volunteered at eight locations. While we haven't had every application acknowledged, we've found by working along side these "government employees" that the great majority are hard-working, dedicated people, just like the rest of us in the "food chain".

Jeffrey said...

If a volunteer has experience running an organization - and everything from the Scouts, Churches, Military to small businesses give you that sort of experience - put together a volunteer outreach/coordinator position. Getting people who can put all the horses pulling in the same direction is just as important as actually making them pull in the same direction.