There are many worthwhile programs and causes for which someone might volunteer, but did you know that one of those can be volunteering for the National Park Service? The Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) program is a National Park Service-wide program that allows individuals to play an active role in helping protect and share these national treasures. Volunteering with the National Park Service allows parks and centers, like the Southeast Archeological Center (SEAC), to accomplish more than they could normally and provides volunteers with unique opportunities to contribute to the important work being done throughout the National Park Service. It also allows individuals to apply their talents and skills or learn new ones in a way that is both beneficial to the volunteer and to the benefiting park.
At SEAC, volunteers can provide vital assistance both in the lab and in the field when projects provide opportunities for volunteers to participate. Individuals both young and old, from all types of backgrounds, have contributed to SEAC projects, locally and in the parks themselves. By volunteering at SEAC, local college and high school students interested in archeology have gained practical experience, learning excavation techniques and how to process artifacts,which can help prepare them for a career in archeology or a related field.
They have also participated in SEAC outreach events, educating others on the important work SEAC does for parks in the southeast region. Volunteering allows students to complete volunteer hours needed for scholarships or graduation requirements and can be added to a résumé as experience.
Seniors and retirees have often assisted SEAC by screening dirt at excavations or helping in the lab to process artifacts and complete data entry, allowing staff to focus on other aspects of a project. Volunteering can promote an active lifestyle and provide a social outlet for seniors who wish to continue making a positive contribution to society, and the National Park Service, in meaningful ways.
Volunteers with specialized skills can sometimes find themselves supporting SEAC beyond just general assistance. Several volunteers with information management backgrounds have assisted in our small library, providing invaluable help with the cataloging and re-shelving of books. Volunteers with photography experience have helped SEAC photograph artifacts for documentation and inclusion in reports. At battlefield sites, metal detector hobbyists have volunteered their skills and equipment to help SEAC conduct surveys, allowing SEAC to complete their work in a timely manner while also offering those volunteers the chance to enjoy their hobby and help us learn more about these important sites at the same time. One especially unique VIP has volunteered her services as a Human Remains Detection (HRD) dog handler on several occasions to help search archeological sites for previously undocumented graves and human remains, in one instance allowing SEAC archeologists to confirm the location of a nearly destroyed burial mound! You never know how you could help the National Park Service until you ask!
Although SEAC typically has only a few volunteers at a time, sometimes a large volunteer effort is required to complete a project. One such project occurred during the summer of 2015, when SEAC’s Archeological Landmarks Technical Assistance Services and Contracts (ALTASC) division, formerly the National Historic Landmarks and External Contracts (NHLEC) division, undertook an excavation at the Byrd Hammock National Register Site in Wakulla County, Florida. A total of 25 VIPs volunteered over 2,500 hours to assist SEAC in the proper excavation and documentation of the site as well as washing artifacts and assisting with artifact analysis. This project could not have been completed without the efforts of these volunteers. Their dedication to the project helped SEAC receive recognition at the regional level when SEAC was awarded the Southeast Region’s Hartzog Park Volunteer Program Award.
The VIP program is open to all individuals, but those under the age of 18 must have the official, signed permission of a parent or guardian to participate. The amount of volunteering is up to the individual and the benefiting park, but can range from just a few hours to days, weeks, or years! Completing at least 250 volunteer hours with a federal agency participating in the Interagency Pass Program (IPP) will provide the added benefit of a Volunteer Pass to the VIP, allowing them free entrance to over 2,000 federal recreation areasparticipating in the IPP, including every National Park! The 250 volunteer hours need to be earned in a single calendar year. Once a pass is earned it is valid for 12 months after it is issued. Consider visiting Volunteer.gov or contacting the volunteer coordinator at your local National Park or Center to see what kinds of opportunities may be available for you to get involved in preserving America’s resources!