Rooted in Action: Celebrating Wild Ones Volunteers

| General, Members

April 21 through April 27, 2024, is National Volunteer Week – a celebration recognizing the profound impact of volunteers. This week emphasizes the spirit of collective effort and the personal benefits of volunteering, such as developing friendships and broadening a network of like-minded individuals, educational opportunities, physical exercise, and mental well-being- all while preserving biodiversity and supporting local ecosystems.  

As we celebrate National Volunteer Week, I am continually inspired by the passion and dedication of our Wild Ones volunteers. Their commitment to environmental stewardship and community engagement is the backbone of our success and a beacon of hope for a sustainable future.

Jen Ainsworth, Wild Ones Executive Director 

Wild Ones is a grassroots movement of people who are passionate about our mission and inspire others to restore habitats by planting native plants. In 2023, over 700 members volunteered in leadership roles to coordinate over 2,200 volunteers to assist with advocacy, programming, fundraising, and community projects across Wild Ones 115 chapters. These efforts have grown our community of Wild Ones members to over 9,500 individuals, businesses and affiliates in 2023 and we are now over 10,000 members strong!  

Here are just a few of the many mission-critical areas where our chapters made an impact last year: 

Education and Outreach 

Volunteers are critical to spreading Wild Ones mission. In 2023, chapter volunteers dedicated over 18,000 hours to organize over 1,300 programs and activities to engage members and the public. Chapters hosted over 170 guided nature walks, up almost 60% over last year; the number of home garden tours was up almost 75% and chapters more than doubled the number of native seed collections. People are eager to learn by doing, as evidenced by a whopping 145% increase in the number of hands-on workshops.  

  • Southern Kentucky Chapter: This past fall, the SoKY Wild Ones hosted a combined event featuring a native bee workshop and a seed swap. A member and bee enthusiast led a session on the importance of native bees and guided attendees in building bee hotels, followed by a seed sharing opportunity. 
  • Greater Cleveland Chapter: In a standout initiative, members took part in a Science Fair Day at a local school, teaching K-8th graders about the importance of native plants. This hands-on activity not only informed but also inspired the next generation, helping students start native sunflowers from seeds. 
  • South Central Pennsylvania Chapter: This chapter supports a nursery that is staffed by a diverse group of at-risk students, promoting the propagation and sale of native plants. Their efforts not only provide valuable education but also practical skills and job training for the students involved. 
  • Community Science: These initiatives offer a dynamic blend of education and outreach. In 2023, nearly 800 volunteers participated across 13 unique community science projects.  

Wild Ones volunteers significantly extended our educational reach and raised public awareness about the importance of native plants and natural landscapes.  

A Standout volunteer: Ray Stewart is now the vice president and a part of Greater Cleveland Chapter’s board. He is well connected with other community organizations, provided all of the seeds and seed packaging used at all of our activities and created handouts for Wild Ones Greater Cleveland information table events in 2023. Ray was a regular educational speaker for chapter meetings, hosted several chapter events, and is usually one of our go to volunteers when working with a school. Through his Webbed Foot Designs nonprofit, he designed and organized our Amherst Rotary Park Garden Installation project. Kudos Ray!


Last year, 15 chapters reported policy advocacy activities at state and local levels. Their efforts have not only raised awareness but have also led to significant legislative victories and community transformations. 

  • St. Croix Oak Savanna Chapter: Board members participate in the Minnesota Environmental Partnership’s Pollinator Cluster, collaborating with other mission-aligned organizations to advocate for pollinators and protect habitat across the state.  
  • West Cook Chapter: Members joined Berwyn Illinois residents to protest the destruction of a neighborhood park in favor of a parking lot. Public outcry caused the village to change course and the chapter is working with the park’s caretaker to introduce native plantings.  

These efforts demonstrate the power of Wild Ones chapters to merge advocacy with collaboration, highlighting the impact of collective voices in promoting native plants and natural landscapes. 

Environmental Impact 

In 2023, Wild Ones Chapters provided knowledgeable, hands-on support and donated over 24,000 native plants to 175 community gardens and restoration projects. Volunteers removed over 79,000 square feet of turf and restored or transformed more than 840,000 square feet to native plant habitat.  

  • Capital Region New York and Mid-Mitten Michigan Chapters: Both chapters led initiatives to support native plantings in wheelchair-accessible spaces, creating inclusive garden experiences. These projects not only enhanced accessibility but also educated the community about the benefits of native vegetation in urban settings. 
  • Chequamegon Bay Chapter in Wisconsin: Volunteers placed half-barrel planters filled with native plants around local businesses and public spaces. These container gardens served as educational tools to interest the public, test native species’ performance in containers, and gauge their ability to overwinter, providing valuable insights and community education. 

These projects illustrate the tangible, positive changes driven by our volunteers. 

In 2023, seven chapters reported exceptionally high volunteer turnout and engagement (measured as >100 volunteers in 2023): Fox Valley Area, Front Range, Lexington, Quad Cities, River City -Grand Rapids Area, St. Louis, and West Cook. The New Jersey Gateway and Mid-Missouri chapters had the most volunteers relative to the size of their chapters! 

Finally, let’s carry forward the momentum and continue to grow our impact. We encourage anyone inspired by our mission to join us—there are many ways to get involved, from hands-on gardening to educational outreach and advocacy. Volunteering locally with your chapter is one of the best ways members can make a difference and we encourage you to reach out to the chapter leaders in your community to learn more about ways you can participate. There are also a few opportunities to volunteer at the national level as well. Find out more on our website.  

The examples are just a few of the many that highlight our collective impact.  These achievements from the past year—from advocacy to educational outreach and habitat restoration—underscore the value of contributions from each volunteer across the organization.