Arizona Conservation Corps is Born: Coconino Rural Environment Corps and Southwest Conservation Corps Sonoran Desert Office become Arizona Conservation Corps



Southwest Conservation Corps Sonoran Desert Office (SCC) and the Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC) have recently joined forces as Arizona Conservation Corps (AZCC). 

Additionally, Southwest Conservation Corps has created Conservation Legacy - a new parent organization that will continue to operate the SCC program out of Colorado, the AZCC program, Environmental Stewards, a VISTA Team and Southeast Youth Corps. 
 


 

"We are confident and already seeing signs of our organization being much stronger as one in Arizona," said Rob Spath, AZCC Executive Director. "We will continue to operate two offices (Tucson and Flagstaff) with many satellite programs in the White Mountains, the Greater Phoenix area, Cottonwood and Safford.  We will also continue to support programming in Southern New Mexico and Southern Utah.  And most importantly, we will be offering up the same, if not better, programs and services."

 

VIDEO: Corps Partner to Restore the Escalante River Watershed

VIDEO: Corps Partner to Restore the Escalante River Watershed

How a Summer Job Turned into a Life of Service and Conservation - Afton McKusick


Where are they now? – Catching up with 2006 Corpsmember of the Year,

Afton McKusick

Afton McKusick, a former member of the Coconino Rural Environment Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2006 for her commitment to service and environmental conservation. Read below to find out what she's been up to since accepting her award, or find out more about Afton and her Corps experience by reading her bio from our 2006 National Conference.

Afton McKusick “caught the Corps bug” when she was a teenager, and she seems happy to have never been able to shake it. She started at the Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC) in 2001 as an AmeriCorps Corpsmember, and over the course of nine years she was an Assistant Crew Leader, a Crew Leader, an Assistant Field Coordinator and a staff member at CREC. Today, Afton continues her affiliation with Corps as an employee of American Conservation Experience (ACE). And to think, all of this commitment to service and conservation started in a high school chemistry class.

“I was a junior in high school and [CREC] had just started their first Youth Conservation Corps and they were looking for people. So they were going around to all the high schools to advertise it,” said Afton. “I thought that working outside would be a much better job than working at Burger King or flipping burgers somewhere else.”

Afton has always loved the landscape and natural beauty of her home state of Arizona. When she was growing up she spent a lot of time outdoors and she has fond memories of going hunting with her parents. It wasn’t until joining CREC, however, that Afton thought about how a love of the outdoors could translate into a career. 

For Afton, it wasn’t just the chance to spend time outside that made her Corps experience so fulfilling. What really made her stick with the CREC was the sense of accomplishment she got from her work and the ability to spend time with like-minded people.

“You build a trail and you can see what you’ve done for all the people that are going to recreate there. I really loved that and it gave me a sense of ‘Hey – I’m really doing something good. I’m one person and this is a small crew, but look at what we’ve done together,’” said Afton. “I think AmeriCorps attracts a certain kind of person who is really enthusiastic and motivated and those are the kinds of people that I like to be around so that we can actually accomplish something.”

Afton, who is now 28, says that being a Crew Leader was the most rewarding experience she had with CREC. It was exciting to introduce Corpsmembers to the outdoors, teach them new skills and watch them grow. Seeing people she had trained apply their new skills and knowledge in subsequent jobs was very satisfying.

Overlapping with her years at CREC, Afton worked her way through school. She began at a community college where she earned an associate’s degree in environmental science. She then transferred to Northern Arizona University where she spent two years studying forestry. At this point, after six years of school, Afton decided to put down the books for a bit and work for the National Forest Service. She enjoyed working on a “fuel crew” that managed forest fire threats, but she realized working for the Forest Service was not her calling.

“I really liked it, but I really missed the camaraderie that you get within the Corps,” said Afton.

It was at this point that Afton was offered a job with American Conservation Experience. Her current job title is Chainsaw Coordinator and Trainer. She is responsible for overseeing the entire chainsaw program in the Arizona branch of ACE. She coordinates project logistics, trains new Corpsmembers on chainsaws, and supervises projects to make sure they’re up to her standards.

“Keeping everyone safe who’s running chainsaws is my number one goal!” said Afton. “Who knows what I’ll do when my body finally gives out and I can’t play around with a chainsaw anymore.”

ACE is just beginning an AmeriCorps program, and Afton is excited to be a part of its development.

“I really, really enjoy working with our AmeriCorps members and learning what they want to do with their lives,” said Afton. “We had a Corpsmember who was an architect and he got sick of it and came to ACE as an AmeriCorps member and he has totally changed his direction. Now he wants to be teaching people and working outside. I find that really exciting and I think that’s what AmeriCorps is all about.”

Afton hopes to eventually return to school so she can earn her bachelor’s degree, but for now she is very content with her job.

To young people thinking about joining a Corps, Afton says:

“Being in a Conservation Corps is definitely a lifestyle. And it’s a very rewarding lifestyle…. I think any Conservation Corps – especially the ones in the Southwest, with all the travelling you do and working in the national parks – you get to see things a normal tourist wouldn’t get to see. I personally think that’s pretty neat. And you’re also helping your community at the same time, which is really rewarding in itself…A lot of people who join AmeriCorps programs really do find friends that last them a lifetime. And at CREC, there are people who meet each other and get married.  I just think it’s a great opportunity to meet people, to expand your horizons, to put yourself in situations that you might not be comfortable with, and learn how to cooperate with people you might not have met otherwise.” 

 

2011 Project of the Year: Community College Teams with Coconino Energy Conservation Corps

 

Winner: Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC)

Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC) and Coconino Community College built an effective educational partnership in 2010 that has greatly enhanced the experiences of Energy Conservation Corps (ECC) Corpsmembers both in the classroom and in the field.

The partnership began when CREC approached Coconino Community College (CCC) after the College received an award to deliver weatherization training in Northern Arizona. With this award CCC was able to subsidize training expenses for CREC Corpsmembers.

The CCC campus has an extensive lab that allows for practical applications of basic safety, weatherization measures, and construction training activities that develop the Corpsmembers learning experiences. Courses cover Basic Weatherization, Tier 1 retrofitting, and Tier 2 retrofitting. Corpsmembers receive in-depth, professional training to become competent residential retrofitters. The six full days of training mirrors the Tier 1 retrofitting that Corpsmembers apply in the field.

The college also arranges for Corpsmembers to complete an energy audit on a volunteer residential home. First, however, they complete the installation of retrofit materials in a controlled classroom setting before working on the home. After completing their retrofit, Corpsmembers can see real time results from post tests, giving them a concrete understanding of the value and improved energy efficiency that result from weatherization of homes.

After students finish their terms, CCC and CREC combine resources to provide post-employment assistance by helping Corpsmembers find jobs within the local green construction field. So far six Corpsmembers who have completed this certificate training have accepted green jobs with local energy and sustainability companies in Flagstaff. This makes the training program even more effective as the skills gained through this collaboration directly impact the communities of Northern Arizona in terms of both overall energy conservation and developing a local, capable, and certified workforce.

2006 Corpsmember of the Year: Afton McKusick

***Update! Click here to read about what Afton has been up to since she won her award.***

(Written in 2006)

A remarkable and resilient Corpsmember, Afton McKusick has been a fixture of enthusiasm and dedication in the Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC). Encouraging several of her friends to join the corps with her, Afton began her successful role as corps recruiter during her junior year of high school. Her love for preserving the northern Arizona landscape continues to bring new members to CREC every season.

Afton's first summer project with CREC consisted of removing the invasive species, cliff rose, off the sides of Walnut Creek. She loved the hard work and since then has worked on trail maintenance and chainsaw crews. Despite already receiving her allotted two AmeriCorps Education Awards she has insisted on spending her summers protecting the natrual environment of northern Arizona.

Afton says the program has helped her realize many life lessons. "Every person we come into contact with will in some way or another have an impact on us," says McKusick, "but we also have an impact on them."

As much as the program has benefited from Afton, she stated that CREC has been equally helpful in her character development. "Without this program, I would not be the person I am today, " Afton said. Explaining her reasons for returning to the prorgram, Afton said, "I came back because...this is a place where I can make a difference."