PLI summer beach hosts Efren Gomez and Suheir Nasereddin gained some useful insights into the challenges of volunteer beach cleanup events at Lake Mead National Recreation Area over the summer. Starting in May, Efren and Suheir worked as bilingual event coordinators facilitating beach cleanup events and informational outreach sessions. One of their key assignments for the summer was to quantify and qualify the effects of speaking Spanish with respect to visitors' participation.
The summer outreach program was a collaboration between the National Park Service’s (NPS) Lake Mead National Recreation Area and UNLV’s Public Lands Institute. Efren and Suheir supported summer volunteer programs in cooperation with Chris Pietrofeso and Bryan Goodwin of the NPS volunteer office. Together, they facilitated opportunities for visitors to learn about and participate in volunteer programs at the park. Events included impromptu beach clean-ups and volunteer program information booths at local businesses.
It is always a challenge in a recreational setting to get site visitors to take a break from planned activities to participate in a volunteer event. At Lake Mead, NPS personnel felt there was an additional roadblock to volunteer participation caused by a language barrier between park service representatives and Hispanic visitors. Consequently, PLI and NPS set a goal this year to increase volunteerism among the Hispanic community.
During this summer’s events Efren and Suheir conducted an observational study of the cultural and contextual factors that influence participation in Hispanic visitors. The summer was an ongoing learning experience, but one that yielded valuable data for moving volunteer programs forward in future years.
A summer’s worth of observation and data collection demonstrated that members of the Hispanic community seemed more receptive and interested in impromptu beach clean-ups when they felt related either physically, culturally, or linguistically with a park representative. Simply having representatives who spoke Spanish led to a significant increase in participation rates from last year to this year. Additionally, Hispanic families were more prone to volunteer for a beach clean up as a whole family. In other demographic groups it was far more likely for just a few family members (like kids and/or teenagers) to volunteer for a project. Efren and Suheir noted parents’ endorsement of a program was associated with higher participation in young Hispanics. Observation showed Hispanic parents attached an educational value to the programs, explaining why they encouraged their kids to be part of them.
Understanding the factors that contribute to Hispanic families' decisions to participate in land stewardship and environmental protection programs is essential for the future of volunteer programs at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. This study provides a starting point for designing programs more closely aligned with the cultural mores of the Spanish-speaking community.