Last year marked a big leap for the Jolly Rovers.
From our humble launch in 2011 to the achievement of our tax exempt status in 2015, our tribe of volunteers had grown from 12 to 36. Volunteer service hours sky rocketed as well, with each crew member donating anywhere from 80 to 600 hours in a single season.
These 100 days of trail work culminated in over 7,500 hours of volunteer service to parks and forests throughout the country; a value of close to $175,000 of charitable service in 2015 alone and over $450,000 since 2011.
We travelled further than ever as well, completing projects in 7 states and 14 parks. Roving from our home base in the Hudson Valley of New York, we trekked as far north as the White Mountains of New Hampshire and as far south as the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee - even managing to make it as far west as the hills of Texas.
For 36 volunteers with little to no funding, looking back at these numbers feels rewarding, but in the end, they still feel like numbers. I don't believe any of us think our success can be gauged by such metrics. The continued dedication to our obscure niche of volunteerism cannot even be gauged by the stonework itself. Compilations of completed project photos and tables of volunteer hours say one thing, in fact they say many good things; but I think they only address the byproduct of what truly makes us what we are.
We've always said, "it's the stonework that get's people here, but it's the family that keeps them coming back." We arrive from all walks of life. Our backgrounds, philosophies, and histories are often completely different than the individuals whom we volunteer with on any given day. Yet all of us have relied on one another during personal times of need and laughed together as if we'd known each other since childhood.
I've broken bread, shared campfires, and travelled the country with all of my friends and fellow crew members. More than anything, I think last year marked the ability for our organization to grow in all the aforementioned ways without compromising the personal reasons that keep us coming back: family and friendship. To grow without making concessions to such things has always been a challenge; one that we've successfully met thus far, and must continue meeting into our future.
The receipt of our tax exempt status last year opened new avenues for growth. Inevitably, we began getting a lot of recommendations suggesting to push the organization towards expansion: Why not add 100 volunteers? Why not start up chapters across the country? Why not triple the amount of trips we hold?
While the Rover family is our greatest strength, it is also the most delicate thing to nurture as time goes on. I personally believe that growing too quickly often leads to the alienation of those that were with you from the beginning; that by taking on too much that's new, we risk forgetting our past.
As a result, the Rovers will grow and evolve, but we will do so steadily and deliberately. We will take on new recruits only when our crew leadership has grown to guide them and we will add more projects as we are able to commit to them responsibly. In this way we'll stay on mission, and not exhaust or estrange our crew members.
This year, with 10 new recruits, our crew membership is up to 46. With another 100 days of trail work planned we suspect that the amount of service hours and completed projects will increase as well. However, as stated before, these numbers are a byproduct of a much greater success - one that cannot be valued in metrics or put into words. A success that can only be measured by the smiling faces of the Rovers themselves.