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Inspire Me: Volunteers keep parks thriving

Ever hear of a place called Reunion? Neither had Congaree National Park volunteer Chuck Schaeffer. That is, not until two women from the small island-nation walked into the visitors center where he was working one day.

“That’s part of the attraction of working here,” says the retired pharmaceutical sales representative. “You meet people from all over the world.”

Schaeffer ticks off some of the faraway places visitors to the “swamp” have hailed from as if flipping through the pages of a National Geographic. And Reunion?

Schaeffer looked up the exotic-sounding locale after the women had left. “It’s in the Indian Ocean,” he says proudly. “It’s part of France.”

According to park Ranger Fran Rametta, volunteers like Schaeffer — who has worked at least one day a week at Congaree for 15 years — keep our parks thriving.

“We could not operate without them,” he says.

In fact, Rametta estimates that in 2008 the Congaree’s volunteer corps — more than 400 strong — donated more than 7,000 hours of their time to the park, helping with everything from trail and facility maintenance to collecting field samples for scientists and interacting with visitors.

“They are our living ambassadors,” Rametta says.

Sarah Robinson, public relations manager for PalmettoPride, agrees with Rametta about the importance of volunteer help.

“We simply don’t have the resources or manpower to clean up all the illegal dumpsites,” Robinson says, explaining that PalmettoPride works to coordinate volunteers for cleanup initiatives across the state, including two of the area’s national forests, Sumter and Francis Marion.

Over the last six years, PalmettoPride volunteers have hauled away 126 tons of garbage and debris from these two national forests alone. Robinson says forest and waterway cleanups are particularly popular among those looking for volunteer opportunities.

“I think because for outdoor enthusiasts, they are very protective about the environment,” Robinson said in an e-mail. “They are, typically, energetic people that like to be involved.”

Interested in volunteering for one of South Carolina’s national treasures? Call the Congaree National Park at (803) 647-3974. To help with an April 25 cleanup at the Sumter National Forest, call PalmettoPride at (803) 758-6034.


Celebrate National Volunteer Week, Monday through April 25 by joining a volunteer effort in your area:

ROLLING READERS: Seeks volunteers to read and tutor children in Richland and Lexington counties. (803) 733-7323; e-mail:

RECORDING FOR THE BLIND AND DYSLEXIC: Seeks volunteers to help with events, school visits and administration. (803) 603-6217;

EDVENTURE CHILDREN’S MUSEUM: Seeks volunteers to help with new nature-based exhibit. For professionals, college students or teenagers. (803) 400-1163

STATE MUSEUM: Seeks volunteers to help in every department: research, gift shop, school groups and exhibits. For more information, call (803) 898-4912 or e-mail

COOPERATIVE MINISTRY: Seeks furniture donations to help supply homes of families living in area shelters. Drop off at 3821 W. Beltline Boulevard or call to schedule pickup, (803) 799-3853 ext. 312.

AIDS BENEFIT FOUNDATION OF SOUTH CAROLINA: Seeks volunteers to help with annual gala and fundraiser. (803) 254-6644 ext. 110;

KEEP THE MIDLANDS BEAUTIFUL: Seeks volunteers for Midlands Makeovers/community cleanups, April 25 and May 2. (803) 733-1139;

AMERICAN RED CROSS: Seeks volunteers to join disaster relief efforts. Stop by 2751 Bull St., call (803) 540-1200 or visit or

COLUMBIA MUSEUM OF ART: Seeks volunteers to assist the public during “Turner to Cezanne: Masterpieces from the Davies Collection, National Museum Wales” exhibition, through June 7. (803) 343-2170;

MUSCULAR DYSTROPHY ASSOCIATION: Volunteer counselors needed for summer camps. Must be at least 16 and able to lift and care for campers. For more information or an application, call (800) 572-1717 or visit