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.

AmeriCorps NCCC and California Conservation Corps Partner to Build Stronger Corps to Crewleader Pathway

On November 5th, Erin Healy, Programs and Operations Division Chief of the California Conservation Corps (CCC), and Charles L. Davenport Jr., Acting Regional Director of AmeriCorps NCCC Pacific Region, signed a MOU into effect that allows CCC Crewleaders to be given preferential selection as a Team Leader with NCCC Pacific Region. Crewleaders must have at least 6 months of experience in their position and be able to get a reference from their Center Director to qualify for the preference.

In addition to attending the signing event, U.S. Congresswoman Doris Matsui (CA-6) wrote in a letter (shown right) that "This partnership is a prime example of how different levels of government can successfully work together toward achieving a common goal." Congresswoman Matsui is a long-time supporter of Corps programs, and was recognized as a Corps Network Congressional Champion in 2008.

You can read more on the partnership in the attached MOU. Both AmeriCorps NCCC and California Conservation Corps are members of The Corps Network.

Fighting Fire with Fire at AmeriCorps NCCC

Article, written by Corpsmember Rachel, appears on the AmerCorps NCCC blog. Published August 20, 2014.
 
I had the privilege of being part of the Sun Unit fire management team, we were based out of Fort Collins, Colorado from mid March to late July.  We were working with the USDA Forest Service doing fire mitigation and suppression. My team spent our first 2 weeks in a classroom so we could get our Type II Firefighter certifications and red cards. We learned a lot, and had hands on training so we knew how to operate a fire engine and dig a fire line. We learned how to fight fire aggressively, while simultaneously keeping in mind the necessity for safety and communication out in the field. 
 
Our team had been warned months before that our time with the Forest Service would be mentally and physically exhausting, and the people who told us that certainly weren't lying. Each work day brought along new challenges, but being surrounded by such a supportive team definitely helped me get through those longer days. Usually we had to hike long distances to get to our work site, which was then followed by hours of physical labor and then an equally long hike out. Every time we did this we had our fire packs on which can weigh anywhere from 30-45 pounds. They have important things like water, food, a fire shelter, and extra PPE. We also carried our tools and other supplies we might need for any given project.

The first two months we were able to go out on a lot of prescribed burns. These burn projects help get rid of trees that could make fire behavior more extreme.  The days we lit the burn piles were a lot of fun, but they were usually followed by days of "mop up." Essentially mop up required our team to go back to the burn area and check piles to make sure they were no longer hot. The first two months we were with the Forest Service we had burned and secured approximately 100 acres.
 
When the weather got warmer, we worked on a thinning and clearing project up in the mountains. It was an interesting role reversal, because our time was then spent creating burn piles that the firefighters will light this upcoming winter. A lot of chain sawing was done to cut down dead trees in the area, and this will provide protection to nearby homes and towns in the event that there is a fire. 

One major theme throughout the entire experience was the need to be "fire ready" at all times. We were warned early on that we could be called to respond to a fire at any given moment. Every day when we went to our worksite, we always packed like we would not be back to our housing for 2 weeks. Overall though, the fire season was pretty uneventful because of all the snow and rainfall. Once we were called to an unattended campfire, and there were a couple of times we were sent out on a fire only to find out on our way there that it was a false alarm. It’s crazy how much our adrenaline would start pumping whenever we heard word that there was a smoke report or potential fire in the area. 

There was only one fire in our area throughout the 4 months we were near Fort Collins. It was close to 4 acres in size, and it had been caused by a lightning strike. Thanks to the help of other firefighting crews in the area it was quickly contained, and our team helped with mop up on the following days to make sure it was completely cold. It was also fairly close to a residential area, so it was really rewarding for our team to know that we played a part in protecting a community from immediate danger.  The 12-16 hour days were definitely difficult, and I can only imagine how exhausting it must be when there are larger fires that require weeks of constant work. 

Overall, my time with the Forest Service was one of the most challenging and exhausting experiences I could have imagined. I had no idea that I would try out for the firefighter team when I signed up for AmeriCorps NCCC, but I’m so glad that I did. I had the chance to learn a lot, and I pushed myself physically and mentally every day. Even though we had no idea what each day would bring, we stayed positive and kept our focus on the impact we were making. My team worked hard to help protect the communities in and around the national forests. I am so proud of us for what we managed to accomplish.

[Video] AmeriCorps NCCC works with newly-founded Illinois Trail Corps at Lake Shelbyville

The Waiting Game: Stories From Incoming AmeriCorps NCCC Members

Read these stories from current and future AmeriCorps NCCC members about what they did to prepare themselves before their year of service!

Kristina

Zlata

Devon

Jake

Blog Slideshow: 

Adventures in Service: From AmeriCorps NCCC Member to Eli Segal Fellow

Article, written by Paula Katrina Drago, appears on AmeriCorps blog. Published May 21, 2014.

AmeriCorps NCCC alum and former Eli Segal Fellow, P.K. Drago, recalls her times with AmeriCorps and CNCS.

As an AmeriCorps NCCC member, I had the opportunity to participate in rebuilding efforts in the New Orleans area, serve as a counselor at a camp for kids and adults with special needs, build trails on an island in the Puget Sound, support the Los Angeles Food Bank, and reduce the risk of fire in the San Bernardino Mountains. Like many other NCCC alums, I now have a collection of library cards from across the U.S., have mastered the art of parallel parking a 15-passenger van, and get irrationally excited whenever I spot someone in an NCCC sweatshirt.

I never expected to have a job that entailed working from platforms 40-60 feet in the air at a camp high ropes course, learning the best technique for building stairs into a hiking trail, or wearing a Tyvek suit, but what I expected least was how serving in AmeriCorps would change me. Being a national service member is the most empowering experience I’ve ever had and I became passionate about helping others find the same strength in themselves through service. That’s was first attracted me to the Eli Segal Fellowship.

Serving as the Eli Segal Fellow at the Corporation for National and Community Service allowed me to see what happens at the agency level to make a program like AmeriCorps possible and to give a voice to current members in the development of new programs, initiatives, and policies that impact members and alumni. My work included supporting disaster response efforts in New York and Alaska, recruiting schools to provide scholarships for national service alumni, and even tweeting for AmeriCorps. 

In ways, the fellowship was sometimes as surprising as my service terms—while providing support for a CNCS Board Meeting, I briefly found myself face to face with Richard Simmons!

P.K. Drago served as an AmeriCorps NCCC members and team leader with the Pacific Region Campus (Class XVI and XVII) and was the 2013 Eli Segal Fellow.  Learn more about the Eli Segal Fellowship and apply by visiting go.usa.gov/kYNe . The application deadline is Friday, May 23.

AmeriCorps NCCC and Westminster Woods Preventing Fires

Article appeared in the Sonoma County Gazette.

A team of ten AmeriCorps Nation Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) members will be serving with Westminster Woods summer camp and conference center from June 3rd until July 16th,. This is the team’s fourth project in their ten-month service commitment to AmeriCorps NCCC, a program celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Westminster Woods has been located on Dutch Bill Creek since 1946 and covers over 200 acres of old-growth Redwoods. During the summer months, Westminster Woods functions as a summer camp that helps spiritual reflection and growth, encourages stewardship of local natural resources through ecological education and strengthens community relationships.

While in Occidental, the NCCC team will be aiding Westminster Woods by helping reduce the possibilities of fires and maintain trails within and surrounding the camp. The team will be removing fallen trees and debris, clearing and maintaining trails, installing steps, improving accessibility and potentially painting cabins.

Madison Martinez, a member of NCCC, said, "After trail building in Washington, I feel like our team is physically prepared for the tasks ahead of us and can really use the knowledge we gained to make a difference. It will be so great working in Northern California, and we can't wait to interact with the community and explore the area." Like Martinez, the rest of the team is eager to hit the ground running and are excited to see how much they can get done in 6 weeks.

 

The AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) and its FEMA Corps units engage 2,800 young Americans in a full-time, 10-month commitment to service each year. The program is currently celebrating their 20th Anniversary.  AmeriCorps NCCC members address critical needs related to natural and other disasters, infrastructure improvement, environmental stewardship and conservation, and urban and rural development; FEMA Corps members are solely dedicated to disaster preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery work. The programs are administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). CNCS is the federal agency that engages more than five million Americans in service through its AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Social Innovation Fund, and Volunteer Generation Fund programs, and leads President's national call to service initiative, United We Serve. For more information, visit NationalService.gov.

 

AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps Pacific Region
3427 Laurel Street, McClellan, CA 95652     
~Phone:  (916) 640-0306    
~  Fax:  (916) 640-0318

 

(Caption for the picture: First row R to L: Thomas Davis, Caleb Brown, Alicia Mullings, Haley Howe. Second Row: Madison Martinez, John Akers, Alex Lomas, Jyler Donovan, Chelsea Browning-Bohannah. Standing: Team Leader Lauren Anderson. )

Tribute to Former AmeriCorps NCCC Member

From the AmeriCorps NCCC Southern Region Facebook page - where you can view a photo album of Sage's AmeriCorps NCCC experience

AmeriCorps NCCC Class XVI Corps Member Sage Pro, 24, passed away a few days ago at her home with her family in Seattle, WA.  

Her Mother says she lived an amazing life. Sage had been battling a rare ovarian cancer since December. But, she had a good attitude and never stopped living, says her Mother. Sage wrote about her journey at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/sagepro. Her Mother shared that Sage loved AmeriCorps NCCC and the South. Her Mother reflects that she came back so organized and put together. NCCC was amazing for her; So much so that, Sage wanted to work with a nonprofit in the South. Before she passed, Sage received cards that brought her joy from NCCC River 7 members she served with in Class 16 (2009-10) at the Southern Region in Vicksburg, MS. Sage remains a part of the NCCC and national service family. She will be missed by many. 

Her Mother says we may share this with others.
Our hearts go out to Sage’s family and friends.

Condolences may be sent to:
Luli W. and Gary P.
9318 Forest Court SW
Seattle, WA 98136

Photos from the Reaching the Summit Community Service Initiative Day in West Virginia


Check out these photos from last week's Reaching the Summit Community Service Initiative. The project, led by Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia, involved the completion of 350 service projects in five days throughout southern West Virginia. Held in conjunction with the Boy Scouts of America's annual Jamboree, the event brought together Corpsmembers from CCCWV, KUPU - Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, Northwest Piedmont Service Corps, and AmeriCorps NCCC.

Click here to read more about the event. 
 

 

 

 

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