2008 Corpsmember of the Year: Keith Storr

 


 

When Keith left his first term of service with the Greater Miami Service Corps for a music scholarship at Edward Waters College, his crew and supervisor of nearly seven months were sad to lose him but proud of his opportunity. When he found out a short time later that his mom had a terminal illness, he withdrew from his first semester of college and came home to take care of his mom and younger brother. When his mom passed, he knew he had to be strong for his little brother. 

Keith asked to return to the Corps. As he said, “At the time when I re-entered the Corps, my mom passed away and my younger brother and I had to move in with my grandmother.  The Corps staff helped me get back on track.” 

Keith is on the landscape maintenance crew for the Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer. When he was sent on a special project to The Everglades National Park, his team, and especially Keith, received praise from park management.  Upon his return from the Everglades, Keith was asked to fill the gaps on a crew that was down to only two Corpsmembers and a Supervisor.   His hard work, along with the assistance of his fellow Corpsmembers, maintained 93 acres of grass and trees, ensuring the project was never behind.  As Keith said:

“I learned how to get the ‘job done’ and how to work smart and not hard.  Many Corpsmembers view me as a leader.  I am now enrolled in Miami-Dade College studying psychology.  I intend to use the skills gained at the Corps to assist me with my future goals.” 

2008 Corpsmember of the Year: Linnea Heu


***Update! Click here to find out what Linnea has been up to since winning her award.***

(Written in 2008)

When Linnea joined the Hawai’i Youth Conservation Corps (KUPU), she had very little knowledge of or concern for Hawai’i’s environmental preservation. 

“I had always loved the outdoors and nature, but I’d never seen the environment as a responsibility, which I now realize it is," she said.

Linnea joined the Corps out of cultural consciousness and pride when she heard the Corps was going to spend a week on Kaho’olawe Island.  This island, a place of great cultural significance for many native Hawaiians, was used for military live-fire training and was in the process of being “regreened”. 

During her term on her home island and her second term at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, Linnea was involved in dry forest, stream, and beach restoration projects, including removing invasive species, propagating seeds, and installing irrigation.  During both terms, supervisors and peers were impressed by her drive, eagerness to learn, and enthusiasm for service. 

Linnea is currently pursuing a degree in Environmental Science and plans to be an active participant in environmental restoration in the future. As Linnea said:

“Luckily for me, a passion for the Hawaiian culture led me to an equally engrossing care for the environment and the islands I call home.”

2009 Corpsmember of the Year: Meg Zaleuke


Meg first heard about AmeriCorps NCCC (AmeriCorps National Civilian Corps) as she was finishing up her Masters degree and trying to figure out what the next step in her life would be. Instead of becoming a Child Life Specialist, Meg decided to take a different path by joining AmeriCorps NCCC. Her year was filled difficult tasks: educating the youth, rebuilding homes, restoring cities devastated by hurricanes and working to preserve Maine's natural beauty.

Today Meg knows she is the not same person she was when she joined  the Corps.

“We are now different people; taking different roads and pursing new dreams because of our experience in AmeriCorps NCCC," said Meg. "It is likely that in 10, 20, 30 years to come, when we have long been out of the ‘Ameri-bubble,' our stories will begin with our AmeriCorps NCCC year; the year that changed our lives.”  

As Meg finished her time with AmeriCorps NCCC, she took with her, “…The sense of camaraderie [she] shared with her fellow Team Leaders and team, the enthusiasm and determination [she] saw in the elementary school children she tutored and the courage and resilience [she] observed in the communities along the gulf coast..”

Corpsmember Success Story: Diana Carrillo

 

Diana could not speak English when she left her home of Mexico City and came to America. Now, after spending three years living in the States, 25-year-old Diana is a confident English-speaker with her eyes set on college. None of this would have been possible, she says, if not for her involvement with Conservation Corps North Bay in San Rafael, California.

Before joining the Corps, Diana's lack of a high school diploma and her limited English made it difficult for her to find a job. This was extremely frustrating for her as she needed to make money to support her then 4-year-old daughter. Fortunately, Diana heard about how Conservation Corps North Bay taught ESL and could help her gain job skills. She was particularly excited to hear that Corpsmembers at CCNB could work and earn money while completing their studies.

As a participant in Conservation Corps North Bay’s educational program, Diana earned her GED and is just a few credits away from obtaining her high school diploma. In addition to what she learned in the classroom at CCNB, Diana also learned how to use a chainsaw and is now an expert sawyer. She earns money by working with CCNB crews on environmental conservation projects that have involved everything from habitat restoration to fire and flood prevention. Diana currently works with CCNB’s recycling program and earns enough money to support herself and her daughter.

After she passes the California High School Exit Exam, Diana hopes to begin attending the College of Marin in January 2013. While studying she will also earn money working at CCNB’s organic farm on the College of Marin’s Indian Valley campus. Diana is not entirely sure what she wants to study, but she says she really enjoys her conservation work at CCNB and is considering pursuing a degree in environmental studies.

When Diana emigrated from Mexico with her family to try and find more opportunities, she had no idea what the future held for her in California. Three years later, she is well educated, employable and self-sufficient.

“I didn’t know the language. I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “Now I have time for work, for study, and for my daughter.”

Corpsmember Success Story: Carmen Curry

Without a high school diploma or GED and with little work experience, 21-year-old Carmen Curry found it very difficult to find work. That all changed, however, when Carmen joined Conservation Corps North Bay.

Carmen heard about the Corps from her brother who had participated in a CCNB program for middle school and high school students. Intrigued by how the Corps offered job training and assistance for those trying to further their education, Carmen joined CCNB in August 2011.

After taking classes through CCNB’s educational program, Carmen passed her GED test on the first try. She has already passed the California High School Exit Exam in Math and English and is just a few credits away from earning her high school diploma. Carmen said her peers at CCNB have been extremely helpful and supportive throughout her educational experience.

When she's not in the classroom, Carmen is out in the field working alongside fellow Corpsmembers on various conservation projects. CCNB taught Carmen how to use a chainsaw and paid her to work on habitat restoration, creek cleaning, and other efforts to help protect and maintain the natural beauty of local parks and public lands. Carmen became such a skilled sawyer that she is capable of prepping a gas-powered chainsaw in just 46 seconds.

Carmen plans to attend Berkeley City College in January 2013. She hopes to take classes in early childhood education and eventually pursue a career as a preschool teacher. Carmen says she has been interested in becoming a teacher for a long time. After watching her brother struggle with reading, she feels she has ideas about how to make learning more engaging and exciting for students who would otherwise get frustrated in school. Carmen also feels she is well-equipped for a teaching career because she knows she can relate with students who are experiencing a tough time at home.

In addition to job skills and an education, one of the most important things Carmen gained from her experience with Conservation Corps of North Bay is self-confidence. Carmen says she was once very shy and quiet, but now she feels like a leader and is happy to be able to set a good example for her children.

“If you’re really in a rough spot, the Corps’ the place to go,” said Carmen.

Carmen has a 3-year-old son and a second baby due in February 2013. She lives in Richmond, California.

EarthCorps Crew Leader Reflects On Transformative Summer Experience


 

Editor's Note: Each summer many of our Corps send crews into the backcountry and wilderness. From time to time we publish accounts of these experiences. The one we are publishing today is among the best. Based in Seattle, Washington, EarthCorps is unique among The Corps Network's membership in that many of its Corpsmembers are recruited from overseas. This account was written by a crewleader named Zach.


 

I’ve always felt that working and living in the wilderness provides a great equalization between people. It helps to bring forward all the essential qualities between humans and strips them of their differences. In the backcountry, you are all on the same footing. When you live in a tent, it doesn’t matter how much your property is worth. When you are swinging the same tools, your credentials do not stratify you. When you are speaking a common language of slope, grade, and soil, your mother tongue does not define you.

As a Crew Leader at EarthCorps, I serve with a group of young professionals from across the globe to restore local habitats. A challenge faced by operating crews from such different backgrounds is building a common community in which all the participants can fully realize their potential. Often, our work takes place in the greater Seattle area. We maintain and create sustainable habitats by removing Blackberry and other invasive species of plants from parks and green-spaces. We spend most of our time restoring public land so that people may reconnect with the urban wilderness that exists in the city. 

Cities are a nucleus for human creation. Often these artifices are specific for the group of people that have created them. Surrounded by the creations of Pacific North West culture, it is easy to discuss only the differences between the crew members. Recently I had a conversation with my Crew Member João from Brazil about the HOV lanes we use in Seattle. He was amazed by the speed in which we were able to bypass WA-520 traffic on a Tuesday morning. Our trip to a Kirkland park became a lively discussion about the Eisenhower Interstate system and the comparative construction of Brazilian, Ugandan, and Nepalese transit systems as others chimed into the conversation. In trying to build a community of this diverse group, it is essential to find the commonalities between us instead of just the differences. Surrounded by cultural artifacts, a diverse group often just sees the contrasts.

In July my crew was able to participate in some trail maintenance and building along the Foss River in the Necklace Valley Wilderness. We spent eight days living many miles from other people. We were visited only by the occasional hiker heading up to Jade Lake and a few of the more curious critters looking for berries. For a few members of my crew, it was the first time for them to get into the backcountry. They were academics from top universities across the globe--more comfortable finding a book on hydrology than swimming in a river. For me, I was excited to leave the roar of the Sound and return to a place where things were simpler. 

Stripped of the city, we were alone in our surroundings. Suddenly, the crew members from the United States no longer had the cultural home-field advantage. Haddy from Uganda and Prati from Nepal could live as comfortably as Natalya from Indiana or Max from Washington under the forest canopy. No longer surrounded by culture, we were revealed as humans. Our conversations changed as we spent more time in the forest. Before we would talk about American holidays and how they were different from Nepalese festivals. Now we discussed the underlying concepts of belonging to a place and how family and community helped center our identities. As a crew, our festivals did not rely on tradition but around sharing calories after a long day of work. The universal and basic feelings of hunger, fatigue, and camaraderie were now central. We had taken off our cultural overcoats to find the human underneath. Every night we would uncover different joys that each of us had buried inside of them and we would share them with laughter and compassion around a campfire.

All too soon the days drifted by and we hauled our gear out on a beautiful sunny day. Our packs seemed light after eating much of the food and hauling rocks for the past week. But as we got closer to the city we started carrying more: phone calls we had to make, bills to be paid, friends to visit and chores to be done. We wrapped ourselves in our national flags again and started settling into our place among other people and the routine of the city. 

Yet now it seemed different. We had seen each other as hungry, loving, tired, happy, capable humans. Instead of identifying each other based on our pasts and traditions, we could see each other more clearly as people. All of us possessed the same fundamental qualities, fears, and desires. We just spoke about it with different words. The distance between Nepal and Seattle seemed smaller now. We had crossed a bridge in our community and now had a better understanding of each other within our small group. We had done restoration work on each other as we worked on that trail. 

The backcountry brings people together in a very unique way. It closes the gap between cultures and brings to the forefront all the human things that are so often muffled by the noise of our creation. I have always enjoyed its ability to fundamentally change perspectives. My crew was a powerful example of this. We hiked in a small community centered on exploring cultural differences. We came out a global community of six young humans.

Maryland Conservation Corps Battles Insect Parasites to Save Hemlock Trees


 

The parasitic wooly adelgid. Photo by E.P. Mallory via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

The Maryland Conservation Corps was featured along with several other partners in a recent Baltimore Sunarticle for their work to combat wooly adelgid insects that are decimating hemlock tree populations in Maryland forests in places such as Swallow Falls State Park.

Tina Stevens, a Park Service Associate with the Corps, said that "Last week 50 corps members treated 2000 old growth hemlock trees to prevent the HWA from spreading and devastating the 478 acre park."

Aside from those impressive numbers, according to The Sun, "Besides their ecological role, the stately hemlocks at Swallow Falls also draw 250,000 visitors a year" making this task even more important.

You can read the full story about how the Maryland Conservation Corps and other state agencies and partners are combatting the insects at The Baltimore Sun (link)

 

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