I left the Corps Network 2013 National Conference last week feeling refreshed and excited. In addition to touring the White House and seeing some of the sights around Washington D.C., I was able to network with leaders from youth corps all across the country. Through plenaries and workshops I learned more about the vision of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, strategies for tackling the challenge of youth unemployment, and how the state of the recovering economy and sequestration of spending cuts will potentially impact our programs. I was inspired by individuals like Shelton Johnson, a park ranger at Yosemite National Park whose efforts to spread awareness of the history of Buffalo Soldiers has been recognized nationwide, and Joel Holtrop, chair of the Corps Network’s Board of Directors and retired Deputy Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. I also met with Senator Michael Bennett, Representative Ed Perlmutter and Representative Diana DeGette and shared the incredible work of Mile High Youth Corps. To top it all off, I was able to tell my story:
Growing up in a small town outside Indianapolis, Indiana, my passion for environmental conservation started at a young age. In its infancy, this passion stemmed from simply being outside. My brother and I didn’t watch TV or play video games. We tramped around in the woods, dug for worms and fished in the creek. I still remember helping my dad cover our windows with shrink wrap every fall in order to reduce the amount of energy we used to heat our house. Through small acts like this he conveyed to me the importance of minimizing our carbon footprint. Growing up, the concept of environmental stewardship gained further clarity during my time in Boy Scouts. My Eagle project involved spreading awareness of invasive species in my community. I wrote articles for the local paper, had information booths at community events, and led a group of volunteers in a large eradication at a local park.
After graduating from Indiana University in May 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and international studies, I needed to move away from Indiana in order to make real changes in my life. Marred by substance abuse, my life had begun to slowly spiral out of control. I needed a fresh start. An opportunity to reconnect with my values. A chance to find myself. The mountains of Colorado seemed like the ideal place to forge a new beginning.
I decided that I wanted to dedicate a year of my life to service and dove headfirst into the 10-month AmeriCorps Leadership and Conservation Program at Mile High Youth Corps. We started in the spring by installing energy and water saving measures in low-income properties. I stared poverty in the face and made real and tangible change. I began to relearn the concept of community and feel a sense of belonging to a greater cause. I was elected by my peers to Leadership Council, the Corpsmember-led governing body of the agency. I served as the voice of my crew, enacting policy changes based on Corpsmember input and organizing agency-wide events.
In the summer we transitioned to land conservation. I served as an assistant crew leader on a chainsaw crew that thinned forests to protect against wildfire. As a tree hugger at heart, I initially struggled with the concept of cutting down thousands of trees, but quickly came to understand the importance of fire mitigation. I worked harder than I ever had before, setting the tempo for the crew. I led environmental education and teambuilding activities and encouraged seasonal Corpsmembers to go the extra mile and explore the true impact of their service. Brimming with newfound confidence, I felt good about what I was doing and who I was becoming.
I just finished my second 1,700 hour term of service with Mile High Youth Corps. As Conservation Alumni Mentor, I provided leadership, support and training for Corpsmembers in our Energy, Water and Land programs. My role was to connect with Corpsmembers on an individual level, ensure that they were engaging in meaningful service opportunities and educational experiences and provide on-going suggestions for improvements in our programming. At its simplest, I maintained and promoted a positive corps culture across the agency.
After completing 3,400 hours of service, I joined the Mile High Youth Corps’ staff as a Program Specialist for our Conservation Program in December. I lead the AmeriCorps Leadership and Conservation crew that I was a part of in 2011, giving me a chance to create an AmeriCorps experience for Corpsmembers that was as valuable as mine. In addition to supervision and program management, I am the primary technical resource for land conservation projects. I am thrilled to be able to continue promoting individual learning, leadership and personal growth among Corpsmembers.
While working full-time at Mile High Youth Corps, I plan to use my education awards to begin work on a Master of Public Administration degree at the University of Colorado Denver. Ultimately, I would like to work in a managerial role at a Denver area non-profit focused on community development.
At the end of my 2 years in AmeriCorps, the biggest change is who I see in the mirror. I am proud of who I am. I AM PROUD OF WHO I AM! My AmeriCorps experience kindled a passion for service inside me. I learned the value of community, hard work and integrity and now live in service to those values.
I would like to thank the Corps Network for this tremendous honor, but the honor is not solely mine. I’m blessed to be part of an incredible team at Mile High Youth Corps that has provided me with the tools to make a difference in my own life and the lives of others. I think John Irish, a recipient of the Corps Network’s Legacy Achievement, said it best:
“The work of national movements is often described as standing on the shoulders of those who have come before us. However, it seems more accurate to describe it as a relay race in which each wave of leaders exchanges the baton with those of the previous generation.”
Well, I have the baton in my hands, and I’m thrilled to push this movement forward.