An Inspiring Opening Session Also Generates “Emotional Whiplash”


The Corps Network 2013 National Conference got off to an exciting start. It began with the introduction of our 2013 Corpsmembers of the Year through a video that told their stories (Watch it here).

Next, Mary Ellen Ardouny, in her first conference as The Corps Network’s President and CEO, gave a “State of the Corps Network Address.” She referenced many of the organization’s accomplishments in 2012, as well as her vision for advancing the work and funding of Corps.

We also heard from Luis Gaeta, a 2013 Corpsmember of the Year from EOC Fresno Local Conservation Corps (LCC). Luis, 20, spoke about how he struggled to make ends meet before finding the Corps, and he discussed how important it was to him to be seen as a leader in LCC’s responsible parenthood program, POPS (Proving Our Parenting Skills).

Next Shelton Johnson, a National Park Ranger based in Yosemite National Park, gave the audience a huge dose of inspiration. During his 26 years of employment with the Park Service, Ranger Johnson has received numerous awards for his work in conservation, his accomplishments within the Park Service, his excellent speaking and interpretation abilities, and his efforts to document the history of the Buffalo Soldiers. Ranger Johnson also worked as a consultant for and was featured in Ken Burns’ Documentary film The National Parks, America’s Best Idea.

During his keynote address, Ranger Johnson used the story of the Buffalo Soldiers – African American cavalrymen who were employed to patrol Yosemite and Sequoia National parks around the turn of the 20th century – as a way to illustrate his point about the importance of having people of all races and backgrounds invested in our lands and resources. Johnson emphasized how our National Parks and public lands belong to all Americans.

Following a brief intermission, our Washington Insider segment gave conference attendees the chance to hear from officials who can offer us a better understanding of how political decisions are made in Washington, D.C., why certain legislation gets passed, and how Corps might be able to have more say in today’s political climate.

This year we were pleased to welcome back The Honorable Martin Frost (D-TX) and The Honorable Tom Davis (R-VA). These two distinguished former Members of Congress discussed how changing tax rates, “sequestration” spending cuts, growing debt, and a slowly recovering economy are impacting how President Obama will work with the Republican-led House of Representatives and the Democratic-led Senate. Representative Frost and Representative Davis talked about how decisions made in the current political and economic climate could impact Corps and countless programs nationwide. It was a candid, yet helpful discussion. It could not be ignored, however, that the impact of the federal “across-the-board cuts” known as “sequestration” were worrisome to our audience, who rely on numerous funding streams to serve youth and complete cost-effective public lands and community service projects.

Perhaps the Colorado Youth Corps Association summed up the emotional turmoil of the Opening Session best with this tweet: