Volunteers tour county sites

VolunTOUR program participants offer services, gain historical knowledge

By Katy Sword, Columbian staff writer



If You Go

On what could be the last warm, sunny day of the season, about 15 volunteers learned how to harvest corn for the food bank Thursday at Clark County’s 78th Street Heritage Farm.

The teenagers, families and a few seniors don’t know each other yet, but with time, Samantha Moullet, Vancouver’s AmeriCorps public steward, hopes the group will establish a bond that keeps them volunteering time and time again.

The program, known as VolunTOUR, is the brainchild of Moullet and Dora Hernandez with Clark County Parks. The pair run VolunTEEN, a similar volunteer program, but as the name would suggest, is intended for teens. Piggybacking on its success, Moullet and Hernandez developed VolunTOUR to provide volunteers of all ages with an opportunity to give back while earning a little something for themselves. The “tour” element comes from the different locations planned over the next year. Each month volunteers work at a different site, with the intent to give volunteers a unique experience, whether that’s learning the history behind the Heritage Farm or discovering Esther Short and Judge Columbia Lancaster were real people now buried at the Old City Cemetery.

“I don’t want to say we’re revamping volunteering, but making it a little more interesting for community members by introducing some aspects of history,” Moullet said. “I like to have that connection between where people live and where it came from.”

The sites are also places residents might not visit on their own but are rich in history, Moullet added.

The 78th Street Heritage Farm, 1919 N.E. 78th St., has existed for more than a century. For decades it was the county poor farm, where indigent people lived, grew crops and raised livestock.

“It still kind of has that same idea to it as in it’s feeding the poor in the county,” Hernandez said. The Clark County Food Bank cultivates more than 80,000 pounds of produce from the farm annually with the help of Joe Zimmerman, the farm manager.

To further encourage volunteers to stick with the program month after month, VolunTOUR offers a passport. With each site, volunteers earn a stamp in their booklet.

“It’s probably the least important part of it but we’re trying to encourage people to come back and volunteer to experience all of the different places instead of just going out one time and being, ‘OK, we did it,'” Moullet said.

Volunteer Erica Ayers said she and her family moved to Vancouver from Ohio last year. She enrolled her son in VolunTEEN that summer, but when she saw the family-friendly opportunity, she signed the rest of the family up “instead of making him do it by himself.”

“We sat down and had a talk. In the wake of all the disasters, there’s not much we can do in Florida or Texas, but we can do what we can here,” Ayers said.

So far, Moullet said the program seems to be a success — even though they’re only two events in.

“A lot of people here are returning from last week so that’s really cool to see,” she said.

Volunteers might like a site enough to return on their own and help out, Hernandez said. In fact, they’re encouraging it.

At Thursday’s event, volunteers also participated in a scavenger hunt based on an aerial photo of the farm.

“We want the volunteer to identify the park features that are here, where the food bank is, where is the community garden, where’s the sundial,” Hernandez said. “That way if they want to come back and volunteer, they know what’s here.”

At the very least, Zimmerman can always offer them an ear of corn.