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?

Energy Efficiency Program at Corps a Stepping Stone to New Opportunities for Taos Woman

The following story showcases one of The Corps Network's 2015 Award Winners. Jasmine Romero 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.

Jasmine Romero was born and raised on the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. As a teenager, she moved with her mom to Albuquerque, where she graduated from high school and earned good grades. Next, she advanced to college where for about a year-and-a-half she worked toward a degree in engineering. But what came next would challenge Jasmine.

Starting with a heart attack suffered by her father back home on the Taos, Pueblo, a series of consequential events began to negatively impact Jasmine. Eventually she and her mom were forced to live out of their car. Jasmine turned to alcohol to cope with her problems, and soon it became yet another problem for her to overcome.

A little over a year later, Jasmine enrolled in Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. She had sought out counseling for alcohol abuse and heard about the program from her counselor. Jasmine says that, “At first I was hesitant about applying till I read their mission statement. The mission statement is what got me. One key phrase, ‘A stepping-stone to new opportunities,’ this simple statement meant that I had a chance to start over.”

During her term, Jasmine learned the basic skills to weatherize homes to make them more energy efficient. She obtained certifications from Santa Fe Community College in retrofit installer, lead safe practices, OSHA 10, and also First Aid and CPR. She enjoyed the work so much that she applied to return for a second season as an Assistant Crew Supervisor for the Corps’ energy efficiency program. The hard work and attention to detail that Jasmine provides when working make her well-respected among the Corps’ staff and her peers. One staff member remarked that “I know that I can leave Jazz with a task list at any point during the day and come back knowing the crew has been productive.”

Many of the homeowners who have received weatherization services from Rocky Mountain Youth Corps are thankful, including a memorably appreciative elderly woman. Jasmine recalls that “she was unsure at first, having a bunch of kids in her house, but she watched us work as a team and could see the quality work we were doing and was crying out of gratitude by the time we left.”

Jasmine is currently still serving in her second AmeriCorps term with the Corps. She hopes to continue advancing in the energy efficiency field and utilize the AmeriCorps Education Awards she has earned. The staff at the Corps think that, with additional certifications, she could very well become the first woman to serve as an official energy auditor / inspector in New Mexico—a compliment to how far Jasmine has come in developing her work skills. But she views things a little bit differently.

“I can go through and name all my certificates that I received. I can go through the trainings they have provided me and the education award that they have also presented to me. But this is not the important bits and pieces they have taught me. They have taught me how to manage myself as a person to make sure I have my priorities straight. They have taught me so much about life that I had no idea about. I have become 10 times a better person than I was before. They have taught me different types of communications, different types of personalities, and how to connect the dots between these two major characteristics of a person. I have learned how to better control my emotions whether it be at work or at home. They have helped mold me into the person I have always wanted to be.”

Boiler Plate: 
Meet Jasmine Romero, a 2015 Corpsmember of the Year.

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.

Senator Mark Udall Visits Rocky Mountain Youth Corps

Article appears on Rocky Mountain Youth Corps' Facebook page.

Senator Mark Udall visited a RMYC crew working with Colorado Fourteeners Initiative on Mt. Bierstadt, a 14,000 foot peak near Georgetown, CO. Senator Udall helped on the project site and facilitated a discussion about the value of Wilderness Areas. The Wilderness Society, Conservation Colorado, the USFS, and the Colorado Youth Corps Association joined in the discussion about Wilderness at the trailhead--celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Coincidentally, our RCC crew happened to be at the trailhead after hiking the peak early that morning and were able to participate in the event--bringing the youth perspective into the discussion!

The Corps Network Partners with The National Trust for Historic Preservation to Train Next Generation of Preservation Professionals

Through “HOPE Crews” (Hands On Preservation Experience Crews), young people in Service and Conservation Corps programs nationwide will work with The Trust for Historic Preservation and other partners, including the National Park Service, to help protect and save America’s historic places.

The Poets of Rocky Mountain Youth Corps - Haikus from the Trail

Nature's beauty serves as the inspiration for many great works of art -- including these haikus from the Corpsmembers of Rocky Mountian Youth Corps in Colorado.
Well...maybe these poems weren't exactly inspired by nature's beauty. Being out on the trail for days at a time can make you appreciate some of the more subtle "joys" of nature.

Haiku from Trail 4
Originally posted on RMYC: The Conservation Chronicles

Mosquitoes are out
Buzzing in my ear won’t stop
Die die die die die

Bacon grease for days
Chillin in the cup holder
My hair has more grease

In the hills with nerds
Showing off our Magic skills
Where is the walmart?

Sawing back and forth
Woodchips flying in my face
Help! It’s stuck in place

Building a turnpike
Giant rocks won’t move themselves

Rendezvous cook off
For your sweet tooth and meat tooth
Deep fried bacon balls

Digging a cathole
Out in nature feels so nice
Uh-oh, have to wipe

Not oatmeal again
Maybe I’ll add more sugar
Nope, still tastes nasty

Squatting in the woods
Found a nice secluded spot
Oh hey, a hiker

Been out in the woods
Starting to lose sanity

Hikers can’t make jokes
Building an escalator?
Heard that one before

Hiking 14ers
Why did I sign up for this
That’s not the summit?

Morning before work
Troy’s hair looks magnificent
What is his secret?

We all need our meds
Haven’t seen Nathan in weeks
Mail is like Christmas

Senator Mark Udall Visits Rocky Mountain Youth Corps

From Rocky Mountain Youth Corps

Last week Senator Mark Udall met with our Regional Conservation Corps crew (ages 16-18 year old crew) at Steamboat Lake State Park.

The crew acknowledged the Senator by reading a letter of appreciation for his support of Conservation Corps programs across the nation. Senator Udall expressed his appreciation for their hard work and said he was envious that they got to live and work outdoors in Colorado this summer!

Providing Relief – What Corps Have Done to Assist in Hurricane Sandy Recovery Efforts


Washington Conservation Corps members remove damaged household items from a flooded home

Hurricane Sandy took lives, destroyed homes and businesses, and left millions of people without power. As the storm bore down on the Northeast coast during the last days of October, Corps across the country were already mobilizing to help with the relief effort. Corpsmembers have played a significant role in helping communities in New York, New Jersey and 5 other states recover and rebuild.

Some Corps worked through the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and FEMA, while others organized independent of the federal response. Some Corps worked in shelters, while others cleared debris. Some Corps travelled thousands of miles to assist in the relief efforts, while other Corps worked in their own backyards.

Find out which Corps have been involved in Sandy recovery, read about what they’ve done to help, and see pictures from the field:

Corps Involved in recovery efforts 

Conservation Corps Minnesota and Iowa Corpsmembers “mucking out” a home damaged by flood water

What are some of the things Corps have done?

  • Operated emergency shelters throughout New York City: managed volunteers, monitored and assisted residents, cared for children and pets, maintained the facilities
  • Cleared debris
  • Cut down damaged trees and limbs
  • “Mucking out” - removing water and water damaged items and building materials from homes and businesses affected by flooding
  • Solicited donations of food and emergency supplies from individuals and businesses not hit as hard by the storm
  • Operated distribution centers and packaged emergency supplies for Sandy victims in need of food, water, blankets, clothing, toiletries, and other necessities
  • Canvassed neighborhoods to find people in need and spread information about repair work
  • Restored parks damaged by high winds 

NYRP clearing a downed tree in New York City 

AmeriCorps NCCC/FEMA Corps members assisting with water distribution in Far Rockaway, NY.

Get more pictures and more information on the recovery efforts and Corpsmember experiences

Student Conservation Association (SCA) Corpsmember in New Jersey

Southwest Conservation Corps members working with FDNY

Utah Conservation Corps members surrounded by the devastation of Hurricane Sandy 

Green City Force Corpsmembers and staff serving food 

Montana Conservation Corps members organize supplies at a distribution center

New Jersey Youth Corps clearing a downed tree







Conservation Corps Exchange Program: New Mexico to Texas

Picture taken from the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps Facebook page: RMYC members visiting the American YouthWorks Corps in Austin, Texas

Austin’s American YouthWorks’ Texas Conservation Corps program is hosting a youth crew from Taos, New Mexico at Bastrop State Park this week.

(Press Release from American YouthWorks - November 7, 2012)

Austin, TX -  Austin’s American YouthWorks’ Texas Conservation Corps program is participating in an exchange that brings youth from Taos’ Rocky Mountain Youth Corps program to Bastrop State Park for a week of work rebuilding the park’s trails.  As the first part of the exchange, the Texas crew worked in the Carson National Forest near Taos, NM last month.

The Texas program has been working hard for one year to bring the central Texas State Park back to it’s former glory after last year’s Labor Day fire.  They have rebuilt trails, felled hazard trees, protected park culverts and other infrastructure from flood damage, managed volunteer days, and fashioned the park’s drought and fire killed trees into new park footbridges.  The crew is a part of American YouthWork’s Texas Conservation Corps.  There are similar Conservation Corps programs nationwide, especially across the American West, and many of them get together to share best practices.  During one of these sessions, the idea for a crew exchange was born.  The American YouthWorks team travelled to Taos on October 21st to spend a week of sub-freezing nights in the mountains of northern New Mexico.  They worked as a chainsaw crew alongside the Taos-based Rocky Mountain Youth Corps on a hazard and diseased tree thinning project in a mixed conifer forest in the Carson National Forest. 

On Monday, November 5 the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crew travelled to Bastrop State Park and joined the American YouthWorks crew to complete additional trail work for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at Bastrop State Park.  They will be working on reconstruction of trail footbridges that were lost in the fire.  At the end of their week, they will also spend Saturday with the Travis County Audubon Society installing hundreds of new native plants in east Austin’s Blair Woods Preserve.


Rocky Mountain Youth Corps Alumna Makes Headlines for Stopping a Violent Attack on the Streets of Oakland, CA

From The San Francisco Examiner

On the night of Thursday, August 30, former Rocky Mountain Youth Corps member Rain Dove was waiting at a bus stop in Oakland, CA when she noticed a fight break out across the street. A group of about a dozen men had chased another man and his female companion after the couple reacted to being harassed by a CD salesman on the street. The mob of men slammed the woman against a wall and began repeatedly kicking the man’s head.

There were plenty of bystanders, but nobody did anything to help…nobody, that is, except for Rain Dove.

“I asked the guy next to me why no one was helping and he said that there’s an unspoken policy in Oakland that we let things happen and clean up afterwards,” said Dove. “Right then, I ran across the street and pulled two of the guys off of him who were kicking his face in.”
Dove said she immediately put her hand behind the victim's head to apply pressure where he was bleeding heavily. The group then began breaking up, with several men fleeing.

Several of the attackers that stayed at the scene sexually harassed Dove as she attempted to assist the man. Dove responded by telling the attackers that they had done enough damage and could do the decent thing of trying to help the man. Dove provided money to one of the attackers who, after a change of heart, went to a local store and bought water for the victim.

Dove said paramedics who responded to the scene told her that although the man was beaten nearly to death, he will likely make a full recovery thanks to her assistance.

Click here to watch an interview with Rain on CBS San Francisco.