St. John Tradewinds News

Chabot, Brannick Honored for Dedication to Friends of VINP

V.I. National Park Education Specialist Laurel Brannick and volunteer coordinator Jeff Chabot were honored at the Sunday, January 27, Friends of the VINP annual meeting for their dedication to serving the park. Brannick was given the Friends Partnership Award for her efforts to coordinate youth programs in the VINP, and Chabot was recognized as Volunteer of the Year for organizing twice-weekly volunteer work crews which help maintain the park’s trails and ruins.

The partnership award recognizes VINP staff members who go out of their way to foster a relationship between the park and the Friends, while the volunteer award is given to a person who goes above and beyond in their effort to help the VINP, explained Friends President Joe Kessler.

“The Friends Partnership Award recognizes the VINP staff member who best exemplifies the spirit of partnership between the Friends and the VINP,” said Kessler. “The Volunteer of the Year Award is usually given to a person for a particular activity they’ve done.”

Brannick a “Great Partner”
Brannick has helped with the Friends’ Earth Day environmental fair and the school transport grants program in her role as VINP education coordinator, which she assumed last year.

“She’s been very active and a great partner in pretty much any program involving kids and environmental education, which is a hallmark of our program” said Kessler. “Laurel has worked with us for a long time, and she’s gone above and beyond.”

Brannick, who in addition to her role at the VINP is a wife and mother, enjoys the opportunity to work with children, she explained.

“I’m really happy to get this award, but I just feel like I’m doing my job,” said Brannick. “I couldn’t do it without the Friends; they’ve been such a big help. We’ve just been clicking and working well together to get the kids out on these field trips.”

Chabot, who began coordinating the volunteer program one year ago, has long believed in the importance of volunteering in national parks. The volunteer coordinator has been donating 40 to 50 hours a week of his time to the VINP for the past three years.

“Calling in Life”
“My wife and I have traveled a lot the last five years, and we spent a month or more volunteering in Acadia National Park in Maine,” said Chabot. “We picked up a big RV and drove to Alaska, stopping at national parks along the way and volunteering where we could. We volunteered for a month at Denali National Park and Preserve — that’s an experience in itself.”

Volunteering in the VINP combines some of Chabot’s favorite activities, he explained.

“It’s a calling in life at the moment,” said Chabot. “I love the parks and helping people. I used to own a landscape business and I was a boy scout, so I’ve been dealing with things like hiking trails and nature all through my life.”

Chabot has taken his role as volunteer coordinator and run with it, helping the VINP volunteer program become successful, according to Kessler.

“He’s an extremely energetic and entrepreneurial volunteer who works at finding solutions to problems,” said Kessler. “He’s very active in finding support for the park, and he’s really been a model in that sense.”

Each year’s award recipients are decided during an informal discussion among Friends staff. A plaque is displayed in the VINP visitor’s center in honor of each recipient.

Governor John deJongh was the keynote speaker at the annual Friends meeting. See next week’s St. John Tradewinds for full coverage of the meeting.