By Heather Leach
I spent my summer in Lolo National Forest camping out most nights and exploring the streams and waterways nearby, all as part of an AmeriCorps service term with Montana Conservation Corps. I was a Middle School Crew Leader and our project for the summer was surveying for beaver habitat in Lolo National Forest, as part of a Clark Fork Coalition citizen science initiative. We taught the students who came to us each week (for six days out in the woods) how to look for beaver signs, how to measure a stream for beaver suitability and how to camp out for days at a time. As my term ended, a new AmeriCorps position, part of Energy Corps, was opening up at Clark Fork Coalition. Serving with Clark Fork Coalition all summer as our MCC project partner, I knew I would love serving an AmeriCorps term with their organization.
My most common cover letter phrase has become “I believe that getting young people outdoors and learning will lead to future environmental stewards and encourage students to take responsibility for their local lands.” I applied for too many jobs to count using it and never heard back, or the job ended up not giving me the opportunities I was looking for to truly make an impact. With CFC I am finally getting the chance to do what I had written about for so long. When my new service term started in October I spent the first three weeks in the field working directly with students, under Clark Fork Coalition’s Creeks in the classroom programming. I observed how lessons in the field can directly impact a student’s understanding of their surroundings, from preschoolers to 11th graders. For the past couple months I’ve worked on a variety of projects, including community outreach, creating interactive web applications and participating in programming at local schools. Being a part of Clark Fork Coalition’s community outreach team means that I am accomplishing my goal of empowering future environmental stewards.
An AmeriCorps service term can mean a wealth of opportunities for the service member, but it can also mean a dearth of finances. It’s certainly not impossible and having a few hours at a part time job can make things easier. Living on an AmeriCorps stipend does require an understanding of your finances. For the first time I’ve found myself actually sticking to a budget I made. A lot of different opportunities exist for AmeriCorps members to received discounts on things like gym memberships, and I’ve even found success in volunteering time in exchange for goods. There is also an incredible amount of learning. Between trainings, work meetings and opportunities to work with other groups on projects, you’re constantly absorbing new information, learning skills and gaining job experience.
What am I hoping to gain out of this year of incredible experiences and very little money? A chance at a career that I’m truly passionate about. As those who graduated in 2009 can attest to, the job market at that time threw a wrench into my plans post-grad. I ended up moving to Japan and teaching English for three years, became a ski bum in Vail and moved back East only to realize the West was truly calling to me. That’s quite a bit of time to figure out what it is that drives me. And while I’m certain of what I want to do, finding the right job is a challenge. I’ve learned an incredible amount three months into my term at CFC. I’ve focused more clearly on what I want for my own career and what direction I will head in after these 11 months are finished. With the amazing job experience that I’ve gained and the passion that I’ve witnessed at this non-profit, there is no doubt that I will find the right position to move me forward.