RFO is truly a place where individual volunteers make a difference: it’s a place where ideas come to life. The Observatory was built and is maintained by volunteers. All of the public events, private events, classes, and labs were conceived by and brought to fruition by volunteers. RFO’s volunteers work together, combining skills and talents to create this special place.

Volunteer Application Form

RFO volunteers standing in front of the observatory
After preparing the Observatory and telescopes for a Public Observing night, docents take a break for this photo. Photo by Len Nelson.

People interested in volunteering often don’t know where to start.  Perhaps you don’t have a clear idea of what you would like to do to help. Perhaps you’re not sure that your skills, talents and interests would be a good fit.

The wonderful part of volunteering at RFO is that there is a place for everyone. You will find that you DO have something to offer. You may find yourself interested in some activity at RFO, and you can learn more about it and then volunteer. Many of us have discovered skills and talents we didn’t know we had, and that’s very exciting for everyone.

The VMOA needs volunteers to accomplish its mission—we only have two paid staff. In fact, the entire observatory is the result of volunteer generosity.

Volunteers help us bring the sky to our visitors in ways that don’t require them to know any astronomy. We have many volunteer jobs that you can do with only a little training. Some involve support positions at public viewing session, others are administrative support positions that are essential to our operations.

Docents are volunteers with some knowledge of astronomy. They enjoy interacting with the public by explaining the night sky and answering general astronomy-related questions. If you enjoy learning about astronomy and sharing what you know with others, you can become a docent at Robert Ferguson Observatory.

Technical Volunteers bring their special skills to help us serve our visitors better. We can use help with computers, web programming, machining, telescope maintenance and other tasks that require expertise. We don’t train you in these skills, but you can learn a lot by helping us.

RFO docent working on dome
Long time docent Larry McCune working on the dome mechanism.

Training: All volunteers and docents start with a new volunteer training that is one evening a week for two weeks – one in person at the observatory and one virtual. In this training you will learn more about Sugarloaf Ridge State Park and how the VMOA runs the Robert Ferguson Observatory. You will learn about various volunteer positions and events you can become involved in. For those who are interested in learning how to operate the telescopes, RFO offers further in-person training on each of the three telescopes following the initial new volunteer training. Volunteers can choose which one to train on, or all three if they wish. We teach general astronomy, how to maintain and run the telescopes, how to work with the public, how to do digital imaging with CCD cameras, and lots more.

Benefits: As a benefit of volunteering you can sign up for any of our classes for no fee, and we open the observatory to docents for private observing several nights every year. In addition, every Wednesday is set aside just for volunteers to have access to the observatory for further training. The best benefit, though, is the fun of sharing astronomy and the night sky with our visitors.

Docent Training

New docent trainings are held two to three times throughout the year. If interested, please fill out the Volunteer Application Form and we will keep you informed of our next new volunteer training. Please contact Joe Caruselle with any questions or for more information: [email protected].

Our Volunteers are CRITICAL to RFO

Volunteers have:

  • Hosted 8,472 visitors in 2023
  • Delivered 133 public, private, and outreach events in 2023
  • Volunteered 5,530 hours in 2023
  • Built the Observatory
  • Created the PlanetWalk
  • Built a robotic telescope
  • Created a library
  • Built a radio telescope
  • …and even built our huge 40″ telescope for us!

Who are our Volunteers?

Our volunteers come from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all ages, all genders, and all experiences. Some volunteers have studied astronomy for years, while others are completely new but are passionate to learn more. Our philosophy of “Astronomy for All” pertains to our own volunteers as well, and we welcome everyone who is interested in bringing science and astronomy to the public!


President’s Volunteer Service Awards

RFO is a certifying organization for the President’s Volunteer Service Awards. This means that for volunteers that have a certain amount of hours, they would be eligible to receive this award from the President. Click here to learn more.

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