Mexico to Maine — Creating Volunteer Stewards of the Earth

Alumni TIES
5 min readDec 8, 2023


by Kirsten Brewer

In May 2023, I participated in the Alumni TIES seminar in Santiago, Chile on the theme of Municipal Environmental Resilience and Inclusiveness. This seminar connected exchange alumni from across the Americas, all engaged in fascinating and vital climate work, from adaptation and resilience strategies, emergency management, education, government administration, and more. My current role is with Volunteer Maine, the State Service Commission. With this lens, I listened closely to how my seminar colleagues engaged volunteers, included community members, and provided opportunities for youth to take climate action, all in an effort to take lessons home to Maine.

While attending the seminar, Daniel Ivan Zamarron, Parks and Garden Director of Ciudad Juarez in Mexico gave a presentation on his Parks Club program. To revitalize and steward Juarez’ many parks (over 3,000!), he creates “Clubs” that step up to design, build, and maintain a local natural area. The goals and outcomes of Daniel’s program mirrored the programs we champion here in Maine. Despite very different demographics and climate, both Juarez and Maine must rely on volunteers to get things done. Daniel’s program is a case study in how engaging volunteers can strengthen the community and its parks.

Daniel Zamarron presents to the Maine Volunteer Leadership Conference in Sidney, Maine.

With the support of an Alumni TIES small grant, Daniel came to Maine to share more about his program at the Maine Volunteer Leadership Conference, a conference for volunteer managers and others committed to strengthening service. While Daniel was here, he joined us for a Day of Service at a local arboretum and a tour of the City of Portland’s parks.

One of Daniel’s slides read, “People only take responsibility for what they help create”. Whether your goal is stewarding a park, producing community theater, mitigating climate hazards, or teaching T-Ball, this is the mantra that motivates community and volunteer engagement. Rarely can one person or organization achieve their goals on their own. Successful initiatives must engage the community. Furthermore, to sustainably meet a goal, it’s not a one-time investment, it requires an ongoing commitment that is best achieved through a network of supporters.

During Daniel’s visit to Maine, we saw this “community responsibility” exemplified. During the Portland Parks Tour, city staff brought us to a recently renovated park featuring a new skate park, a new playground, and an existing soccer field, pool, and community gardens. The parks’ staff shared with us how local skateboarders championed the park improvements through fundraising to make it a reality. One of the tour participants chimed in that in fact, her son, a middle-schooler at the time, was one of the advocates. The staff also highlighted the important role of the local neighborhood association in sharing their input for planned improvements at the pool, and how the neighborhood association was a very important civic “space” for people to come together, connect, and advocate for their communities.

During the service project volunteers cleared a significant number of invasive species, this is one of MANY trailer loads.
Volunteers work together to remove invasive species and improve public access on the boardwalk at the Viles Arboretum in Augusta Maine.

During the service project at the Viles Arboretum, most of the participants were affiliated with Volunteer Maine in some way, some were staff, and some were AmeriCorps members who are currently committed to a year of service in their community. I made an unexpected but delightful connection when I went to purchase work gloves at the local hardware store; the assistant manager was advising on which gloves were best and asked about the project. She was familiar with the Arboretum as it’s a popular place for locals to hike, and she asked to join us for the day. She wanted to connect with more people and learn more about stewardship so she could bring back the lessons to her family’s home. Some of the other participants shared resources with her such as the local Cooperative Extension office that provides gardening and farming advice at no cost to residents.

These stories and connections exemplify the value of volunteerism and community engagement in a city or organization’s programs. The outcomes of any project are not only stronger and more efficiently produced with volunteers but also leave the community with more resiliency. Studies have shown that communities with high rates of volunteerism bounce back faster from natural or economic disasters, because volunteering together means people simply know their neighbors. As I heard a local leader share at a conference recently, “you don’t want to be passing around business cards when the storm hits.” There are additional benefits to volunteering such as improved health and overcoming social isolation, particularly for older adults, or improved career prospects for those who are unemployed or underemployed.

Daniel Zamarron, City of Portland Park Staff, and representatives of the nonprofit organization, Portland Parks Conservancy, on the site of the Bayside Trail.

In the face of a daunting global crisis, it’s vital that we empower people every day to do something and make a difference in their own community. I encourage everyone to consider how to incorporate service and volunteerism into their work, particularly climate action. People want to volunteer, participate, and take responsibility for their community, and it’s important for leaders to make space for local action. We can create stronger solutions together that will be sustainable and resilient for the long term.

I’m also excited to share that there will be another time to learn from Daniel and hear about his Parks Club program on Thursday, December 14. The World Affairs Council of Maine will host a webinar for folks who were unable to attend his presentation in person. Register here.

You can access the links featured in this article below:

1. Volunteer Maine:

2. Studies on the effects of volunteerism:

3. Registration for Daniel Zamarron’s webinar with the World Affairs Council of Manie:

Kirsten Brewer is a 2008–2009 alumna of the Fullbright English Teaching Assistant Program in South Korea. She participated in the May 2023 Alumni TIES seminar on Municipal Environmental Resilience and Inclusiveness in Santiago, Chile.

Alumni TIES is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and supported in its implementation by World Learning, in partnership with the Office of Alumni Affairs of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA)



Alumni TIES

Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars (Alumni TIES) are regionally focused seminars for alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs.