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New resident volunteers arrive at refuge

By Staff | Nov 15, 2018

PHOTO PROVIDED Jerry and Melinda Sweeten

Since late September, seasonal resident volunteers have been arriving from points across the United State to stay and work at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel.

On Nov. 3, the refuge welcomed first-time resident volunteers Jerry and Melinda Sweeten, from Indiana. They will be assisting Sara Hallas in the conservation education department through March.

Melinda Sweeten was director of the Garber-Simons Senior Center in North Manchester, Indiana, and also was the director of the Manchester University Biological Field Station Environmental Education Program called Koinonia.

Jerry Sweeten was director of the Asherwood Environmental Science Center from 1976-2003. From 2004-2018, he was a professor of biology and director of the Environmental Studies Program at Manchester University.

The couple recently started a small environmental consulting company, which is called Ecosystems Connections Institute, that is focused mostly on water quality and ecological restoration.

They have visited “Ding” Darling often in the past with students in a college travel course.

“The folks here have always been welcoming and friendly to the students,” Jerry Sweeten said. “This stop was always rated high by students. As we approached retirement, we decided this is where we might give back and hopefully add value to the great work here. We believe strongly in the refuge’s mission and all of the conservation partnerships.”

Returning resident volunteers this year include Ken and Louann Gum, who will arrive mid-December; Ron and Mary Horney; and Jack and Patty Wettstein. Resident volunteers put in hours at the refuge in exchange for space and utilities to accommodate their temporary RV homes.