The Power of Community: How Our Volunteers Left One Intern in Awe


As the Multimedia Intern for the Parks Conservancy this spring, I’ve not only had countless opportunities to explore the Golden Gate National Parks while capturing photos and videos, but I’ve also had the chance to meet many interns and volunteers who make these parks truly special.

One particularly memorable day in January that happened early in my internship was when I decided to go to the weekly volunteer program at the Presidio Native Plant Nursery to practice my camera skills. Being new to the world of photography, I was initially hesitant to go because I was just learning to take photos on a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera. Also, I didn’t know much about plants. Not to mention that I had no clue where to go in the 1,400-acre Presidio.

After taking a few wrong turns and driving up winding roads, I finally made it to the nursery to find a circle of volunteers and workers eagerly waiting to greet me.

Once inside the greenhouse, I walked through each “workstation” to snap photos of volunteers who were excited to show me what they were doing.

These volunteers patiently guided me through the process of separating native plant seeds and explained to me the different processes they practice to combat the spread of soil-based diseases. Practices such as setting up sticky bug traps and asking visitors to step into an alcohol solution before entering the greenhouse.

I was amazed to see so many happy people come out on a Wednesday afternoon to wash planters, set fly-traps, and weed in the sun. Their enthusiasm and unending smiles inspired me to want to volunteer with the Presidio Native Plant Nursery myself. I left knowing a little more about the native plants in the Presidio—plus, I got some pretty sweet photos of smiley volunteers. 

But the people I met at the Presidio Nursery were only a handful of volunteers from the other 27,000 stewards who donate their time on behalf of the Golden Gate National Parks.

Flash forward to a volunteer appreciation party in February 2018, I was finally able to see the full breadth of volunteer opportunities at the Parks Conservancy. During the event, I interviewed so many other volunteers who were excited to tell me—and the camera—what they do for the parks. There were volunteers from the Fort Funston Nursery who help collect seeds and protect the native plants in that area, actors who tell the history of the Civil War at Fort Point National Historic Site, gardeners who make award-winning compost at Alcatraz, and even volunteers from the Presidio Archaeology Lab. (I had no clue an Archaeology Lab existed in the Presidio.)

Many of the people I interviewed on camera have been volunteering for over 10 years, while others had started only recently. Regardless of how many years they’ve been volunteering, all the people I spoke with had one thing in common: The passion and joy in their eyes when they got to explain the power they feel from being outside in the parks and stewarding the lands for all communities to enjoy.

But don’t take my word for it. Here is a video I created to sum up the day.

This video doesn’t feature everyone I spoke with that day (condensing two hours of footage into two minutes is tough), but, after watching, if you find yourself wanting to be part of this team of happy do-gooders, the parks can always use an extra hand (or several). See a full menu of volunteer opportunities at

And, of course, thank you to the volunteers who inspired me to create this video! Your donation of time and energy makes the 38 sites within the Golden Gate National Parks a better place to be.

I look forward to continuing to meet more volunteers like you all as my internship continues.

Photos by Lauren Gee

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