The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers utilizes volunteers as a workforce multiplier across the nation which resulted in an equivalent value of more than $45 million in volunteer hours last year.. Volunteers are filling roles at lakes across the nation. More than 2,100 volunteers assisted the Fort Worth District in 2022. Thanks to the volunteers, many of the lakes were able to complete projects that would have otherwise been delayed.
Some volunteers only volunteer for one-time projects such as National Public Lands Day. These volunteers are typically scouting groups or church groups that are interested in team activities for their organization, or completing a project that benefits the public or introduces youth or other groups to outdoor activities. Other volunteers will stay on for multiple projects or even years. Many of the long-term volunteers are retirees who are still interested in working, staying active and/or giving back.
“Volunteers who work over 20 hours a week usually receive the use of a campsite or RV site and utility hookups during their volunteer service,” said Jennifer Linde, a natural resource specialist at the district headquarters. “Some of our lakes have volunteer villages where volunteers can socialize with other volunteers.”
One of the lakes with a robust volunteer program in the district is Benbrook Lake. With 15 volunteers currently assisting the full-time staff, many projects are being completed that otherwise would have been delayed or not accomplished at all without their assistance. Volunteers at the lake work as receptionists, maintenance crew members, park hosts and completing area beautification throughout the lake’s parks.
“I think all of our volunteers play a really important role in making this place great,” said Stefan Flores, Benbrook Lake Manager. “But where you see the most things actually happening is our construction and maintenance crew which averages anywhere from 10 to 15 volunteers.”
Lyndy Black, a natural resource specialist with the district, spent more than 10 years working at Benbrook Lake before moving to the district headquarters. As the lead ranger she was responsible for the day-to-day coordination of the lake’s volunteers.
“It’s a massive undertaking because it’s so important to the lake and the volunteers are force multipliers,” Black said. “I would work with the park hosts and lake office volunteers, but it only makes sense for someone in maintenance to coordinate the daily efforts of the construction and maintenance crews.”
That is where Allen Delima comes in. Allen is the civil engineering technician at Benbrook and has been coordinating the volunteer’s activities for more than 10 years. With welders, plumbers, mechanics and other specialists on his volunteer team, there isn’t a project they can’t accomplish. Being all retirees, they may not get the job done as fast as some, but get the job done they will.
“These guys have a lot of talent,” Allen said. “I just organize and guide them. Without them we wouldn’t accomplish half of what we do at the lake. We do everything from fixing leaks, laying new plumbing lines, running electrical, trimming trees and building maintenance. We’re a little slower, but we get things done safely.”
Volunteers receive safety training and are certified by lake staff to operate any equipment they may use to perform their tasks.
John Powell came to Benbrook Lake 12 years ago to be closer to where his daughter lived. Now, at 83, he is the oldest and longest serving volunteer at the lake. John is ready to do any project that Allen assigns him.
“I just enjoy it,” he said. “I enjoy working for him (Allen). He’s very easy to work for. He says what we have to get done and everybody just gets it done. He doesn’t have to breathe down our necks all day.”
Benbrook’s volunteers make up a small portion of the volunteers nationwide that support the Corps of Engineers. Over the last five years, the volunteer workforce has averaged approximately 33,000 volunteers providing more than 1.5 million service hours annually across the Corps of Engineers. Locally, last year the Fort Worth District’s volunteers accumulated more than 318,800 hours which saved taxpayers more than $9.5 million.
“I feel like it’s an honor and a privilege to be a part of this professional organization,” said Wes Blue, a volunteer at Navarro Mills Lake. “When I look out at all the projects and improvements that I’ve helped complete or been a part of throughout the last 5 years I have a feeling of accomplishment. That is what the volunteer program has given me.”
If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a volunteer with the Corps of Engineers, visit www.volunteer.gov or www.workamper.com to find opportunities near you or post your resume.