Karen Campbell discovered a new world when she and her husband left England for California in 2011.
“It’s scary. It’s such a big move,” said Campbell, who was born and raised in Scotland. “I speak English. It’s even scarier if people don’t speak English. Going to Safeway was overwhelming the first few times.”
Campbell and her husband, Neil Campbell, found their new home across the street from Ulistac Natural Area in Santa Clara. Her husband had a job in computers, but she had a spousal visa and wasn’t permitted to work.
“I was looking for things to do to fill time and saw a sign about volunteering at Ulistac,” said Campbell, sitting on a log at Ulistac. “I came to one work session and got stuck.”
“It’s convenient. Ulistac is my backyard. It’s good to come out and get my hands dirty,” said Campbell, attributing a love of gardening to helping her grandfather in his vegetable garden as a child.
Campbell, who at first knew nothing about native plants and wildlife, volunteered at Ulistac in many capacities for about seven years. Then she got a green card and was hired by Santa Clara in 2018 to be an “as needed laborer” at Ulistac.
She organizes volunteer days and events such as Wildflower Day, arranges corporate work sessions, answers correspondence and maintains the website. Five or six times a week, she can be spotted weeding and working at Ulistac. She also meets monthly with the Parks and Recreation Department.
Also, Campbell volunteers once a week at the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley in San Jose helping with the rehabilitation of orphaned or injured wildlife. She cycles there or takes the light rail since she and her husband don’t own a car.
“I’ve done so many unusual things,” said Campbell. “I stood up in front of the [Santa Clara] City Council to represent Ulistac. I handled a red-tailed hawk and gave it a foot bath. I was presented with a Native American basket.”
“I’ve had incredible experiences I’ll never forget,” continued Campbell. “I wanted to do something rewarding — not just free labor but giving back and making a positive impact.”
One day, Campbell and her husband may return to the British Isles, where their families are. But for now, she is giving her heart to making her new-world community a better place.
“Get involved in your community,” is her heartfelt advice. “If I hadn’t become involved in such a friendly environment, I’d probably be stuck in my apartment.”