Western Reserve Land Conservancy AmeriCorps Testimonials

After graduating college with a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resource Management and no interesting job opportunities, Robin Christensen decided to serve as an AmeriCorps member through the Student Conservation Association in Davie, Florida with the United States Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service (ARS).  While technically a volunteer, she received room and board, a small living stipend, health insurance, and an education award to be used for college or student loans.

At ARS, Christensen helped research biological control insects for the invasive plant, Melaleuca quinquenervia, in the Florida Everglades.  Melaleuca is native to Australia but was originally planted in Florida as an ornamental tree and to dry up the Florida Everglades.  Christensen’s main responsibility was to design and implement a demonstration site on the various control methods and their effectiveness- chemical, mechanical, and biological.  Biological control agents go through several years of rigorous testing before even being released into the wild and Christensen was fascinated to see all behind the scenes processes.

Christensen’s time as an AmeriCorps member provided invaluable hands-on research experience that ultimately opened up many doors when she decided to go back to school for her Master’s degree.  While becoming an AmeriCorps member may not be for everyone, Christensen highly recommends it as a way to get experience and make connections.  She attributes her time there as fostering her passion for protecting the diversity of our natural areas.  Christensen has used this passion to engage the public in presentations about the importance of native plants, develop restoration strategies for public parklands, and now as a Conservation Project Manager with the Land Conservancy.

I first heard about the AmeriCorps position with Western Reserve Land Conservancy while working as an urban forestry intern with the Land Conservancy during the summer of 2019.  At that point, I did not know much about AmeriCorps but was interested in any opportunity that kept me involved with the Land Conservancy’s work.  After learning more about AmeriCorps’s ideology and dedication to service, along with the wide variety of opportunities provided by such a position with the Land Conservancy, I decided to apply.  I transitioned to my yearlong AmeriCorps position, Stewardship Specialist, at the beginning of October 2019.

My position of Stewardship Specialist has given me the opportunity to work closely with the Land Conservancy’s stewardship team.  Much of my position has involved learning about the process of analyzing, monitoring, and maintaining properties on which the Land Conservancy holds conservation easements.  With this knowledge, I have successfully designed a variety of programs designed to engage volunteers through guided hikes and invasive species removal on protected properties.  Furthermore, I have had the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects with members of the stewardship team including setting up a bat monitoring program, preparing properties to be opened as public parks, and monitoring bluebird boxes.

This position has also provided me with the opportunity to continue my work with the Reforest Our City program in the 2020 season.  As the weather has gotten warmer, I have been spending much of my time planting, watering, and maintaining trees throughout urban Cleveland.  I’m looking forward to continuing this work into the fall tree planting season.

In addition to all of the new skills that I have learned, my AmeriCorps experience has put me in contact with many people who are also at the very beginning of their careers in conservation.  As the 10 other members of my AmeriCorps group are working with other organizations across Northeast Ohio, I have been able to learn about conservation efforts from a variety of perspectives and even collaborate with different organizations.  The interconnectedness provided by being one of many AmeriCorps servicemembers has been extremely valuable and will continue to serve me well after my AmeriCorps term is completed.

 

Samantha Miller served with AmeriCorps Cape Cod, a program designed around conservation, education, community outreach, and disaster preparedness and response. Her year of service proved invaluable for developing skills, connecting to professional networks, transitioning from college to workforce, participating civically, and engaging in a gainful stipend-based opportunity during the 2008-2009 recession.

AmeriCorps Cape Cod was created over 20 years ago to better serve Cape Cod’s environmental and year-round residential communities, providing volunteer opportunities to approximately 25 young adults, resulting in over 40,000 of yearly volunteer hours. The program is residential, offering free housing; Samantha lived in a historic Wellfleet National Seashore house with 13 other corps members (with 2-3 bathrooms, depending on what was functioning). Many AmeriCorps members help offset living expenses by applying for SNAP food benefits and college loan deferment for the duration of the service period. Other benefits include an educational award, granted to each AmeriCorps member at the completion of their service, which can be applied to student loans or used for future educational endeavors.

Each corps member is assigned an Individual Placement, essentially a three day/week internship, according to their background and professional interests. Samantha was placed with the Chatham Conservation Commission, where she learned about and was engaged with land management strategies, conservation easements, and public government. She also headed the local Chatham Recycles taskforce, planning community recycling events (including six tons of e-waste collection) at the town Recycling Center and Swap Shop, and speaking at monthly Town Commissioner public meetings.

The other two days/week are reserved for community-wide service days, such as: prescribed burns, invasive species removal, shellfish stocking/harvesting, trail maintenance, boardwalk and park bench construction, and elementary school water education fairs. In addition, AmeriCoprs members partner with the Red Cross on disaster preparedness response, including deploying members in the event of emergencies for mass sheltering needs. A highlight for Samantha was volunteering with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, in particular relocating stranded common dolphins, and performing a necropsy on a deceased humpback whale.

Samantha can attest to the many benefits of a year of service, and highly recommends AmeriCorps programs to young adults. AmeriCorps can be a financially feasible opportunity for civic engagement, gaining skills, exploring potential future work fields, and serving with incredible organizations and fellow corps members alike.

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