How Serving Outdoors Changed My Life

This story was written by Graciela Billingsley

As the bright sun begins to set, the familiar sounds begin to strum together perfectly as if it were an orchestra calming my body; calming my soul. The night is filled with the sound of bugs, wild wolves and streams flowing. After team dinner is made, shared and eaten, my team discusses all things under the sun –work, politics, religion, philosophy and the occasional POOP jokes—you name it, nothing is left unsaid. What else are you going to do, when you are deep backcountry camping and working with the same young adults the whole summer?

As I crawl into my tent at night I find that my legs are sore, my hair is a greasy mixture of sweat and dirt and my eyes are tired as I read the last chapter of my book. This time last summer I would have been experiencing nights like this as a Rocky Mountain Youth Corps member in Colorado. You ask this suburban native girl- first time camper, if she would change a single thing about last summer? The answer is absolutely not.

As an AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps member I came into Rocky Mountain Youth Corps expecting to work hard and serve as an environmental steward in Colorado but I never expected to gain as much as I did out of the program. I worked with a group of people who labored to make sure the jobs got done no matter how intimidating the day seemed to get. I befriended these people, my team, and I found myself, in those Colorado Mountains. I am not saying environmental stewardship or being a Rocky Mountain Youth Corps member is a walk in the park but I am saying that it is worth it. Day in and day out last summer, we worked together to conserve the environment through a variety of projects; trail beautification, creation of trails, creation of picnic tables, rock barriers and many other projects! Camping the whole time last summer taught me that we are here to protect the environment and in return ourselves and that is where true beauty lays.

Here is a poem I wrote because I was so inspired by this experience:

We surrender to the beauty,

Her unashamed relentless graces,

The water hits her face as if

She is the canvas,

Roaring tides on either side,

But deep down in her bones

She understands it is her that

Keeps the land concealed, protected and guarded

Mystifying colors all around

Bring us to our knees

As cascading tears fall from her eyes,

The ripe decisions of life, questions

That life was meant for far more

She loves these moments, when

She comes alive

Take heart she softly sings to us all

We may be startled she whispers

In our ears – but this is where the wild, wonderful and beautiful reign.

Because of all that I experienced last summer, I know I do not want to stop working hard, whether I’m camping everyday or not. I pushed myself that summer and grew because of the experience. My service experience was unforgettable.

That is why I am looking forward to The Corps Network 2nd Annual Day of Service on June 18, 2015. It is going to be an amazing day to get to experience serving with likeminded individuals from all over the country to better our communities and therefore our nation- a true walk in the park!

 

Boiler Plate: 
As the bright sun begins to set, the familiar sounds begin to strum together perfectly as if it were an orchestra calming my body; calming my soul. The night is filled with the sound of bugs, wild wolves and streams flowing. After team dinner is made, shared and eaten, my team discusses all things under the sun –work, politics, religion, philosophy and the occasional POOP jokes—you name it, nothing is left unsaid. What else are you going to do, when you are deep backcountry camping and working with the same young adults the whole summer?

Young Woman Catches the "Corps Bug" : A Passion for Service, AmeriCorps to Blame

The following story showcases one of The Corps Network's 2015 Award Winners. Graciela Billingsley will be recognized as a 2015 Corpsmember of the Year at The Corps Network National Conference in February. More stories for our 2015 Award Winners can be found here.

Graciela “Gracie” Billingsley is all about service. Citing her parents as an inspiration, she believes that from the day they adopted her and her siblings, a passion for service to others and one’s community was ignited. The gratitude she feels toward her parents’ decision is immense. To explain further, while they were excited to adopt Gracie as a baby, the adoption agency subsequently informed her parents that they had the opportunity to adopt her siblings as well. Ultimately, even though they had not initially planned for it, they chose to do it so that Gracie and all of her siblings could remain together.

Upon graduating from high school in 2012, Gracie decided to take a “gap year” to serve her country before going to college. She heard about AmeriCorps from a relative, and joined AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). In this first prolonged service experience, Gracie worked on a variety of environmental stewardship and disaster relief projects in Tennessee, West Virginia, and Alabama. It’s safe to say that Gracie caught the “Corps bug.” This past summer, Gracie wanted to continue serving and also try camping, so she joined a crew with Rocky Mountain Youth Corps in Colorado as an AmeriCorps member. Gracie continued her stewardship by working on hiking trail maintenance and environmental restoration projects in the White River National Forest.

A staff member at Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (RMYC) explains that “Gracie began the summer season at RMYC never having camped before. She rose to the challenges of living outside and working with a team in a 24/7 environment and despite her inexperience in camping, grew enormously, showing confidence and initiative around camp and at the worksite. Along the way she demonstrated her commitment to self-growth by asking thoughtful questions, seeking out feedback, and giving constructive criticism to leaders and others. From the beginning she was a leader by example, generously offering her time and effort to others on her team. Her focus was constantly on the crew before herself. Gracie’s philosophy is that as long as she has energy to give, her intention is to keep giving to others… Gracie fulfills the ideal of what it means to be an AmeriCorps member and public servant.”

One of Gracie’s most notable efforts went above and beyond what she signed up for. Following the end of her season, she organized a donation drive in collaboration with a charitable organization, Lift-Up of Routt County. She mobilized her fellow RMYC participants to help secure donations of food and clothing.

Following her time in Colorado, Gracie moved to the Washington, DC area. Putting the Education Awards she earned through AmeriCorps to use, she currently attends Northern Virginia Community College. Gracie plans to earn a degree in Government and International Affairs. She then hopes to join the Peace Corps masters program. Her ultimate goal is to embark on a career as a foreign service officer for the United States.

Gracie also presently serves as the volunteer Social Committee Co-Chair for the Washington DC Chapter of AmeriCorps Alums. “I don’t think enough people know about AmeriCorps and the invaluable effects the organization has on future generations, generations currently and on the Nation as a whole,” says Gracie. “I truly believe in AmeriCorps and want to bring what I learned in my service terms back home and to link up with other community leaders to raise awareness, funds and people to answer the call to service. My goal as a Social Co-Chair is to network with colleges, high schools, elementary schools and non-profits in the DC and surrounding areas to do as many volunteer events, community events and alum events as possible to build strong relations and to represent AmeriCorps the best way possible.”

Gracie cares so much about sharing her experience with others in part because of what it meant to her through both of her Corps experiences: “I am forever grateful for my service terms because these experiences truly shaped my life and gave me the confidence I need to fulfill my dreams. I have learned that my task is not done when the hard day is over or when I have overcome a challenge, rather the true accomplishment is the realization that I am not done because service is a life fulfilling commitment that is unending and needed for all of humanity.”

Boiler Plate: 
Read the story of Graciela “Gracie” Billingsley, a 2015 Corpsmember of the Year.