A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of joining a volunteer planting day with 25 middle schoolers at Jackie Tatum /Harvard Recreation Center in South Central LA. Next to a skate park and tennis courts, we took an old vacant garden bed and turned it into a pollinator pocket garden, with native sages, ceanthous, toyon, yarrow and more. The students were very enthusiastic and eager to learn and participate. Spending a few hours putting plants into the ground with them was an absolute joy. When we left, the space was transformed, with more than thirty new native plants, an even coat of mulch, and pollinators already buzzing in. Along the way, the students experienced the truth of many hands making light work.

That clear, bright January day reminded me of the many days I’ve spent in the past few years at Kuruvungna Springs, where a full scale restoration, led by the Gabrielino-Tongva Springs Foundation, is underway. The transformation there, implemented almost entirely by volunteers, is incredibly inspiring to see. Thousands of native plants planted, waterways restored, gardens and hardscapes thoughtfully designed, invasive crayfish kept at bay, and untold numbers of weeds pulled. I won’t wager a guess at how many people have volunteered their time, or how many hours have gone into that project, but both are well into the thousands.

The president of the Springs Foundation, Bob Ramirez, and I have a slogan that we like to say to each other. Grab a Shovel. It’s a simple saying that holds a lot of weight. Making the environment healthier and building stronger communities is often easier than it seems. Just grab a shovel, and join in.

At Rio de Los Angeles State Park, we’ve been working with collaborators to restore habitats in the park for the Endangered least bell’s vireo. Thanks in large part to the longstanding efforts of TPF board member, and State Parks Community Engagement Coordinator, Luis Rincon, Rio hosts a vibrant community stewardship network, with a variety of organizations and individuals contributing to making the park habitats more resilient and beneficial to local wildlife. At that site, decades of volunteer effort show how much can be achieved when communities come together.

There are many more people and groups that are creating opportunities for volunteers to come together to restore the land. I won’t list them all in this short post, but I do want to mention the fantastic group of volunteers that keep the TPF grounds maintained. We don’t have a full time grounds keeper, or any staff exclusively dedicated to the landscape, so we rely heavily on a dedicated group of volunteers who come each week to help us plant, weed, mulch, prune and tend to our gardens. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can be a part of that, I encourage you to take a look at our volunteer page, where you’ll find many opportunities to restore the local environment.

There’s something very special and unique about community restoration projects. The comradery that comes from sharing the experience, the satisfaction at seeing progress in action, and the friendships that develop over the course of it are very fulfilling. It’s one of my favorite things about working with native plants, and my best days on the job are almost always outdoors, in community, creating a more vibrant city. If you’re looking to get involved, it’s very easy. Grab a shovel, grab a rake, talk to your family, friends and neighbors, ask them to join, and see where it takes you.