Field of View

Original article appears in GuideStar May, 2021.

Volunteer and Pass it Forward

By Don Selle

 

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“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

It was not so long ago that we “seasoned” astronomers were lamenting the greying of our hobby, which for many is more than just a pastime. Additionally, we came to realize that our “community” was not very diverse by measures other than age, as women and people of color were (and still are) under-represented.

This lack of diversity was not intentional. HAS by-laws specify that anyone regardless of race sex or ethnicity can join (https://www.astronomyhouston.org/content/bylaws). Dues have always been kept low, so as not to be an impediment, and community education and outreach are built into our DNA.

Thankfully, in the past couple of years, interest in amateur astronomy has grown tremendously among younger people from more diverse backgrounds and HAS membership has grown with it.  It is a trend we want to see continue and it is extremely exciting to be a part of it.

Like many non-profit organizations, HAS is led by a group of dedicated volunteers. If we had to pay a staff to do the many things it takes just to keep HAS a viable organization, our annual dues would be, well, astronomical. It takes a lot of work to operate HAS, and as we grow, so does the workload, and as we “grey-haired ones” begin to taper our volunteering, there will be fewer hands to spread the work. We will need others to step up and take our places, not only to do the administrative stuff but to further HAS’ mission.

That mission is “Fostering the science and art of astronomy through programs that serve our membership and the community”. Community involvement in science and science education is vital to our long-term wellbeing, and astronomy is a “gateway” science.

Showing kids the rings of Saturn or talking to them about the vastness of the Milky Way galaxy can open their minds to things beyond their immediate surroundings, and may spark an interest to learn more. Pre-COVID, we did this by physically bringing astronomy to schools and community groups. Our monthly meetings, where we had presentations on astronomy and space science, also were held face to face.

We will do these things in person again, but over the past year we have learned to use online tools that will help us bring astronomy more easily to a larger audience. That is why it is important that we all work together to keep HAS thriving and growing so we can continue to grow as a positive influence for the future.

So why should you volunteer? What do the volunteers who make HAS go get in return for giving up some of their “hobby” time?

It sounds a bit cliché, but through serving others, we serve ourselves and enhance our own lives. This is especially true when we are doing something we are passionate about, and passion for astronomy is at the heart of being a member of HAS!

There are many direct benefits of volunteering, including:

• More happiness in your life.

• You meet new people and make new friends, and generally become part of a community.

• You can find a mentor, learn a new skill, and gain confidence in yourself.

• You can become a mentor and experience the satisfaction of helping someone learn

• You can have a direct impact on future generations.

All are good and valid reasons to serve. I believe however, that there is a more basic reason to volunteer. You too, will learn and grow in the process.

So how do you become more involved, help run HAS and move it forward?

Probably the best place for a novice astronomer to start is by supporting HAS public outreach events, whether face to face or virtual. No experience is necessary! Just attend and watch what is going on. You will see first-hand the wonder and excitement that children and adults alike get from seeing Saturn, Jupiter or the Moon through a telescope for the first time. You will find also find a mentor there who will help you learn what it takes to bring astronomy to the public.

If you are a more seasoned observer, you might consider becoming a mentor and helping to revitalize our Urban Observing program which is geared to helping new members learn to use their astronomy equipment. If you have specific skills such as experience in Drupal website development you could join our web-tech team and help HAS improve its membership operations and public presence via our website and social media integration.

Our Special Interest Groups also could use your help. If you are already participating, volunteer as moderator, or to put together a specific discussion or study topic.

If you are skilled at business administration, especially bookkeeping, you might consider volunteering to assist our Treasurer. The growth of HAS, as positive and exciting as it is, has definitely made this an area where more hands would be welcome.

These are just a few of the areas where HAS needs your help now. There are lots of other ways that you can contribute while following your own passion. At the same time, you will become a part of a team of very interested and supportive people who will help you advance your own astronomy while you gain the benefits of volunteering in your own life.

To learn more about how you might become an HAS volunteer, please feel free to contact any HAS officer or committee chairpersons. Alternatively, you can let us know your interest directly at [email protected].

Give back a little bit by volunteering, and by doing so, you can enrich your life and at the same time, expand your horizons.

 

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