The Creative Side of Volunteering

Volunteering comes in all shapes and sizes and there really is something for everyone. Having spent a year and a half living in Pennsylvania, I had fully embraced the beautiful outdoors and had spent many happy days hiking, exploring wild trails and simply enjoying nature. But as we all know life can be unpredictable, and I have to admit to being just a little sad when a move back to the Chicago area was necessitated; my adventures in nature abruptly ceased.

So I started a search for adventure of a different kind and came across a volunteer opportunity with Lake County Forest Preserve - habitat restoration. I gave it a go, and have been volunteering at Cuba Marsh Prairie for a year now. The restoration work aims to restore the prairie to its native state and involves clearing invasive species, such as buckthorn, and collecting and spreading native seeds. There are two work days a week and we have cleared 15 acres in the last year. While it is hard work, it is very satisfying: nothing beats seeing the stunning native flowers and grasses begin to thrive again.

Nature is an artist and it is hard not to enjoy the beauty. Over the summer I took many photographs as I walked through the prairie to the worksite - there is something magical about grasses and sunny yellow flowers towering over you, and then coming across a secret patch of glorious cone flowers.

The enjoyment continued at home, as I cracked open my watercolors and over a few weeks, painted an entire set of watercolor designs inspired by the flora I had photographed. Using my skills as a graphic designer I turned my paintings into seamless repeating patterns and created a fabric collection I have called "Prairie Beauty". The collection features 13 designs all inspired by the beautiful flora and foliage on Cuba Marsh Prairie.

A wide range of fabrics are available - velvet, cotton chiffon, upholstery, you name it - giving you the freedom to make whatever you like.

The designs are also available for on-demand creation of a massive range of products too (if sewing is not your thing) from bedding to table linens, wallpaper to throw pillows.

Volunteering has given back to me on so many different levels. I have had the opportunity to work on something I care about, to get my outdoor fix, to keep fit and to meet a fun group of people. Who knew it would also lead to launch of a fabric collection?

For more information on the volunteer opportunities offered by Lake County Forest Preserve, visit

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