Monthly Archives: May 2015

One Perspective: The Personal Benefits of Volunteer Service

Olivia Richardson Author Olivia Richardson is a Youth Volunteer at Sully Historic Site. She will be attending Princeton University in fall 2015, and she used her volunteer experience at Sully as part of her university application process. 

Princeton requests that applicants write an essay of about 500 words constructed around a theme selected from a list the school suggests to the applicant. Using the theme as a starting point, the applicant is instructed to “write about a person, event, or experience that helped you define one of your values or in some way changed how you approach the world.” This is the theme Olivia selected:

“’Princeton in the Nation’s Service’ was the title of a speech given by Woodrow Wilson on the 150th anniversary of the University. It became the unofficial Princeton motto and was expanded for the University’s 250th anniversary to “Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.” Woodrow Wilson, Princeton Class of 1879, served on the faculty and was Princeton’s president from 1902–1910.”

The Park Authority is grateful to Olivia for sharing her application essay with us.

I was taught about service by my parents, who both strongly believe in the value of giving your time to a cause. Both came from humble beginnings, and they have always instilled in me a sense of compassion, a strong work ethic, and a sense of responsibility to my community. More importantly, they taught me through example the power of service and the impact I can have through small acts. But an old historic house represents a place where I learned first-hand the importance of giving back to my community.

I first started volunteering when I was nine, teaching 18th century games to young children at Sully Historic Site, a historic house museum in Fairfax County, Virginia. I was awkward, shy, timid, and above all, completely unsure of myself. Uncomfortable period dress made me stand out when I was so used to blending in. But the excitement I saw when other children learned about a new game or activity made it worthwhile. It was during this time that I realized how much service truly meant to me, and I was determined to serve in any way possible.

An opportunity arose a couple years later to interpret slave life at the museum. The damp slave quarter was very different from the warm fields I was used to, and I seemed to be the only young person talking about slave life at Sully. I spent many hours memorizing my information, which opened my eyes to the importance of telling the story of the enslaved. I was giving a voice to the slaves who had been neglected because it is a history that is uncomfortable and difficult for some people. I then took it upon myself to educate as many people as I could on the subject. Sometimes the slave quarter would become packed with adults, nerve-racking but exciting at the same time. I became more comfortable with talking in front of crowds as I realized that presenting was a skill that came naturally to me. Slave interpretation led to the opportunity to learn and teach visitors about slave medicine. After receiving a few new packets of information, I got straight to work, reading up on all of these fascinating medical procedures. I was hooked.

My presentation on slave medicine went so well I was able to do more programs about home remedies and general historical medical interpretation. My presentation went from being about a minute with assistance, to full-fledged discussions where I led a section of the program, something I would have previously never thought possible. I became more confident in my ability to teach, and my 18th century clothes were becoming a lot more comfortable. No longer was I a timid, shy person, rather a strong, confident historical interpreter.

Even as I served long hours, Sully gave me so much more than I could ever give. I was able to learn how to speak in public, with people of all ages and backgrounds. Where I used to be timid, I would actively go up to people and engage them. I was able to share my love of history and medicine, and I started to carry myself better. With my newfound self-confidence, I found myself succeeding more in school, becoming more confident in my academic abilities and able to take on more leadership roles.

Sully for me has been a place where I could grow and become a more confident young adult. Many of my hours have gone undocumented, because I wanted to give without receiving anything in return. I enjoyed that experience so much I found myself helping others in many other ways, from tutoring to mission work through my church. Service for me has become something that I do every day, almost without realizing it. Service can be volunteering at a 1794 historic site, but it can also be simply extending a hand to someone who needs it that day.


Sully Historic Site, located at 3650 Historic Sully Way,  Chantilly, Virginia,  is the 1794 home of Richard Bland Lee, Northern Virginia’s first representative to Congress. 

National Kids to Parks Day: K2PD is May 16

IMHO, PPL, YOLO, so avoid FOMO and enjoy K2PD! *

Kids to Parks DayBy now you know. We don’t have to cite the numerous studies and the statistics. Kids need more time outdoors.

Okay, parents, here’s your call to action. Thousands of folks are committing to head outdoors on May 16, Kids to Parks Day (K2PD). The Fairfax County Park Authority will have a weekend full of family events then, and if you make an online pledge to head out that day, you might have a chance to win a Nikon COOLPIX L830 camera from the National Park Trust.

There are a couple of ways to find out what’s going on in local parks that weekend. Fairfax County Park Authority activities are listed on the K2PD website and in the FCPA Calendar. Either spot will get you where you need to be.

Here’s a start – 10 things to do in the parks on May 15-16-17:

There are also 12 county parks with fishing, 59 with tennis courts, 125 with bike trails, 238 with hiking trails, 130 with picnic facilities, 165 with playgrounds, eight golf courses, five nature centers, four skate parks, three boating facilities, two campgrounds, and a screech owl in an oak tree.

See you in a park on May 16.

* It means: In my humble opinion, people, you only live once, so avoid fear of missing out and enjoy Kids To Parks Day. If you knew this, you probably need less time on social media and more in a park.

Stewardship of Vernal Pools

Anybody ever say to you, “Look, but don’t touch?”

A lot of Fairfax County Park Authority programs are look-and-touch programs, but there are times that the no-touch guideline is critical.

There’s a new wayside information sign at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park (ECLP) with information on it about salamanders and frogs. The sign, along the south side of the gas line that runs through the north end of the park, includes life-size photos of salamanders and frogs and QR codes that link to frog calls.

ECLP has been working closely with the Virginia Herpetological Society (VHS) to design and install the sign, which also has information about the best ways to interact with vernal pools and to protect those pools.

So, what’s a vernal pool, and what do they have to do with signs about frogs and salamanders and the no-touch guideline?

Vernal pools are temporary puddles and ponds of water that are large in the spring and dry later in the year. When the water is there, they teem with life. Spotted salamanders, wood frogs, American and fowler toads breed in them. There are also small insects – dragonfly larvae, water bugs, fairy shrimp and plants. Because there’s so much going on in these pools, protection of them is part of good natural resource stewardship.

ECLP Naturalist and Historian Tony Bulmer has monitored vernal pools for the past 14 years. “The best way for the public to interact with vernal pools is to stay out of them,” Bulmer said. “If they sit quietly and just watch, they will see frogs, tadpoles and salamander larvae.”

That’s the “look” part of “look but don’t touch.” Everything is working as it should.

“Many people think they are doing a good thing by catching tadpoles and relocating them,” Bulmer said. “They are afraid the pool is going to dry up. But relocating them can hurt the tadpoles, especially if they are relocated to an area that has fish.” This has been an issue in large parks like Burke Lake and unstaffed parks, where people have removed tadpoles and salamanders and taken them home. Remember, removing anything from a park violates park rules and can impact the park’s natural resources.

Bulmer says people sometimes move tadpoles to deeper water that may have pollution that the human eye cannot detect. That’s why he suggests sitting quietly and watching the magic of the vernal pools. If that desire to help is overwhelming, volunteer to be an egg mass counter or sign up for park programs about amphibians.

Habitats like vernal pools are avenues to learning about amphibians living in our forests. So are signs like the one at ECLP that grew out of the partnership between VHS and the Park Authority. It’s a terrific partnership, and VHS is an information source for FCPA employees on the front lines of stewardship in the parks. The VHS website can be a go-to place for information about reptiles and amphibians.

There’s more information online about Ellanor C. Lawrence Park and the Virginia Herpetological Society, and the Park Authority has a video on the Hidden Pond web page about frogs and their calls.