The AmeriCorps Experience: Beyond Technical Training

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In honor of AmeriCorps Week, SYRCL’s AmeriCorps members Shannon Hedge, Jaclyn Sherman, and Mary McDonnell sat down and asked each other some questions about their year of service.

Not familiar with AmeriCorps or the Sierra Nevada AmeriCorps Partnership (SNAP)?

Each year, SNAP pairs nearly 30 AmeriCorps members with partner conservation organizations throughout the Sierra Nevada. During their terms of service, members restore and monitor impaired Sierra watersheds, educate Sierra residents and visitors on environmental issues, and recruit and manage volunteers for a variety of programs. SNAP members gain skills and technical training, are mentored by outstanding environmental leaders, and make a real difference in the communities of the Sierra Nevada.

What motivates/inspires you to work in the environmental field? 

Even pulling Himalayan blackberry, Mary is happy in the outdoors.

Mary: As a child, I was always playing in the dirt, examining lady bugs and rolly-pollies, and picking flowers. I know this is not exceptionally different from most kids, but the point is I’ve always had an affinity for hands-on work and for the outdoors. In high school, my cousin, a fish biologist, served as a great role model for me. He showed me how one can make an impact with a career. By the time I started college, I knew I wanted to study environmental sciences. Taking a number of classes in ecology as well as several field-based courses, I deepened my interest in environmental studies and have been pursuing a career in the field ever since.

Shannon:  I had a similar childhood experience to Mary, but I spent my time catching frogs and lizards in my backyard. As I got older, I noticed the species composition around my home changed as the town became more developed. My curiosity led me to educate myself more about the ecological processes that were causing these changes, igniting a passion for the environment. That passion has only increased over time!

What drew you to AmeriCorps?

Jaclyn: This sounds weird to say, but I liked that it was a one year service term. It’s easy to graduate from college and not have the faintest idea of what you actually want to do. I got a degree in Environmental Studies and Economics, which was broad and allowed me to go in almost too many directions. Serving a one year term with AmeriCorps and SNAP has allowed me a chance to find a niche and dip my toes in a field that I knew I was interested in. More so, it has provided me with a professional time and space to immerse myself in my job, learn as much as I can, boost my skill set, and gain some insight on what I want to be doing in the future.

Shannon: I knew I wanted to get involved more in community work, particularly with education and outreach. I had a coworker at my internship with Texas Parks and Wildlife at the time that was serving an AmeriCorps VISTA term and she only had great things to say about the program. I looked into environmental positions within AmeriCorps and stumbled upon the SNAP program. Conveniently, there was a posting for an Education and Outreach Coordinator at SYRCL, which I ended up taking. I haven’t looked back since.

Jaclyn recently installed storm drain markers. Stay tuned for her report on the project.

What’s your favorite part about being an AmeriCorps member?

Mary: My favorite part is the community. From orientation week, I was inspired by my fellow SNAP AmeriCorps members. At the SYRCL office, I am motivated to constantly learn. Through community events, I am appreciative of every volunteer that donates their time to a common cause.

Jaclyn: My favorite part about being an AmeriCorps member is the flexibility of the position. Throughout the year, our service includes professional trainings, scientific webinars, volunteer events, workshops, site exchanges, and the list goes on. It’s never monotonous and every week presents something new!

How has AmeriCorps helped you connect with your community?

Shannon: As the Education and Outreach Coordinator, I am constantly working with people in the community. Be it during a classroom visit or at a tabling event, I’m always hearing different people’s stories about the Yuba River and what it means to them. Their experiences further cement my passions for the environment.

Jaclyn: After spending one day in the SYRCL office, it is so apparent how many dedicated and passionate volunteers devote themselves to this organization. As the River Monitoring Coordinator, I work with volunteers every month, and it’s easy to see that the Yuba River is a defining and unifying identity in this community! Everyone is quick to advocate and offer support for environmental projects, which is awesome to be a part of and experience.

Shannon, enjoying a beautiful day in the watershed.

How will you use your AmeriCorps experiences with future endeavors?

Mary: Already, I feel I’ve gained in my professional development. Before October, I had very little experience working in an office, let alone one with over 20 employees! Besides the technical skills and work experience I’ve developed and will continue to develop during this year, I’ll take with me a passion for both a healthy ecosystem and healthy community that I’ve learned from SNAP members and SYRCL employees to whatever task I tackle next.

Shannon: My AmeriCorps experience has been invaluable in connecting me to my community. I’ve been able to network with other environmental professionals an extraordinary amount, but my biggest takeaway has been with the volunteers. The volunteers have truly inspired me to take action when I feel it’s important, not just when I’m getting paid to do so. I will take that inspiration and pay it forward to future communities I may belong.

Interested in an AmeriCorps position or the Sierra Nevada AmeriCorps Partnership?

Visit the SNAP website, read up on past AmeriCorps team members

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