Matt Yates, the Wildlife Specialist with City of Gresham gives us behind-the-scenes access to a day in the life of an AmeriCorps Member
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Guest Blog from Mary Meier, Natural Resources Specialist at North Clackamas Parks and Recreation
This is my third term with Americorps and over the time I have served I often end up struggling to define my motivation for Americorps service. Recently I bumped into a very simple but perfectly apt explanation. Flying over the holidays is stressful and tiring, I often find myself very introverted and, quite frankly, cranky during the experience. This December, when the pilot came over the intercom to tell us that rather than taking off we were going to be unloading, walking through the airport and re-boarding a different plane because of an equipment malfunction. Well, I don't think I was the only one a bit miffed. I found myself in a dauntingly long and snaking line of less-than-thrilled humanity surrounded by carry on bags and totes. I was trying to keep my spirits up when someone I had never met turned, and noticing an Americorps logo on my bag, asked if I had served. All of a sudden we were having a warm and pleasant conversation about our time and activities with Americorps; joking, smiling and recounting volunteer experiences despite the fluorescent surroundings.
People feel good about their time with Americorps; even if days are often long and experiences are sometimes emotionally or physically tiring. These are experiences that bring people together and connect them to their community and natural environment while providing concrete benefits to non profit organizations working to make our society more equitable and sustainable.
But it is clearly not just about making us feel good. It is important to make sure we are having an impact on the ground and in the lives of others. I was leading a volunteer work party and educational event for a group of high school-aged young adults a couple months ago. The attention and interest of a group of volunteers can vary immensely and there are days where I’m not sure that I’m really connecting. I was having one of those days. One of the students took a particular interest in the native plants we were working around and asked me a question. I stopped worrying about the event and took a little time to answer her question, prompt a couple more and share a snippet of my own love of botany. At the end of the work party my site supervisor brought everyone together, thanked them for coming and asked a simple question, "Did anyone learn something they want to share today?". The same student once again pulled me out of my own logistical concerns. Her hand shot up and she said "sedges have edges and rushes are round", which is a familiar little rhyme I had mentioned while we were talking about identifying wetland plants. I felt like I had connected.
Work parties and volunteer events can be a lot of things. They can be an introduction to restoration and community involvement, an ongoing way for people to give back, or a fun way to spend the day outside, but they are always about connections. Sometimes the simplest way to value them is to revel in these connections and appreciate that this Americorps experience makes us, and the people we interact with, more likely to find, instigate and pass on connections within our communities and the natural world.
Making strides in the real world: My experience being a Confluence AmeriCorps Member
Guest Blog by Dain Alferes, Recycling Outreach Specialist with Washington County, Solid Waste & Recycling
I found myself in the same position that I assume many of my fellow Portland State graduates were in: now that I am an official college graduate, how do I utilize my education to give me a chance to climb the job ladder past the point of just struggling to get by? The well known truth of the matter is that the real world is a tough place with limited job opportunities that are even further limited if you want to do something that would justify your Environmental Studies degree. For the first couple of months post-school my hopes began to dwindle as I kept coming up empty in my job search, finding only work that I had gone to school to move beyond or jobs looking for specific skills and field experience that I didn't have. As time went by I got very close to giving up on looking for a job where I could utilize my degree, ready to accept the fact that my only chance for work was in the low wage, low-skill fields. Fortunately for myself around this time I was tipped by a friend to opportunities posted by Confluence Environmental Center and sponsored through AmeriCorps.
The position that I applied for and later received was for a Recycling Outreach Coordinator, working with Washington County in the Solid Waste and Recycling department. This was an ideal opportunity for me to utilize my education. Not only did the job directly relate to what I had focused on in school but they were looking to hire candidates that did not have the experience and needed to get their foot in the door. Already excited by the fact that I was going to utilize my education, my contentment only grew when I went to Confluence Environmental Center for my first training. The staff who work at the center were nothing but personable and helpful on that first meeting and have kept those positive and appreciable attitudes throughout my service. My fellow Confluence AmeriCorps Members have also been a very positive and important part of my experience. Being able to work with and share experiences with a group of cool and open-minded individuals has helped me acclimate to my new position and given me the opportunity to make some new friends. The Professional Development trainings offered by Confluence have been key to helping me become a better worker and work-mate at my job, giving me skills that I will be able to apply through out my future work experiences. Being a Confluence AmeriCorps Member has not only given me trainings that will help in work and life, it has also given me the great opportunity to further my career chances in a field that I care deeply about.
Working with Washington County’s Solid Waste and Recycling department as a Recycling Outreach Coordinator has been an amazing opportunity to utilize my degree and earn real world experience in the field that I am passionate about. Before this opportunity, I had never worked in an office setting before. Through the opportunity that AmeriCorps has afforded me, I have been able to finally work in a setting that I had previously felt was not open to me. It has been an enjoyable and very valuable experience working in a government office and learning how everything works in an environment that had been foreign to me up until now. The best parts of my work have been the responsibility given to me to develop my outreach skills and being able to interact with the public. The freedom that I have been given to organize my outreach opportunities and to work with people at all levels has been very beneficial. From meeting with management companies to directly engaging the public, this job has allowed me to develop the skills and comfort level to work with all types of people and to continuously improve at managing multiple projects at the same time. Working directly with the public has been very rewarding. Talking with apartment residents during "knock and talks" has allowed me to meet a wide variety of characters with an assortment of beliefs that they passionately support. Meeting all these different people has been a great experience in itself, but the comfort and skill in talking to the public that these experiences offer has proved to be very valuable work skills training.
Connecting with AmeriCorps through Confluence Environmental Center has been one of the most valuable experiences that I have had in my life. They have not only offered me a path to a career in a field that I am passionate about, but also given me numerous invaluable training experiences and connections that I will be able to utilize for the rest of my life. AmeriCorps has also given me the opportunity to meet and network with many people from all walks of life. This has allowed me to hear the view points of many people that I would probably not cross paths with in other contexts, make new friends who share my passions and connect with people working in the fields that I would like to work in some day. AmeriCorps and Confluence have been an awesome experience. To anyone considering applying for it, I would be the first to say, "that’s a great idea".
The June Key Delta Center opened their doors to the Confluence AmeriCorps program on June 27th for our First Annual Confluence Achievement Symposium. The Symposium was a fantastic success offering AmeriCorps Members a chance to share their achievements with the community, their peers and other professionals.
The day started with a wondeful lunch and was followed by a range or presentations and closed with a poster and networking session.
Welcome Catherine, our newest AmeriCorps Member! Catherine is a Program Coordinator with Volunteers of America. She will be developing an environmentally themed summer camp for diverse youth living in multifamily apartment complexes in Portland
Maia Nativ (banana on the left and Confluence AmeriCorps member with Portland Public Schools) and Michelle Metzler (carrot on the right and Recycling and Composting Coordinator with Waste Management) were dressed up and ready to help the students of Beach Elementary School on their first day of their new composting program.
Upperclass students assisted younger students learn how to properly sort their waste, compost, and recyclables.
In november, members planned their first Team Meeting around the theme of Mushrooms.
They headed out to Mt Hood to meet up with the Forest Service Zigzag Ranger District to learn about mushroom identification before heading out into the backcountry to find some edible fungi.
Karin and Melissa, the Team Meeting facilitators, lead the members in a workshop on some tasty treats to make with their bounty.
Community Work Party and Potluck at La Esperanza Farm in Forest Grove:
When: Saturday, Oct. 22nd from 9:30am- 2:30pm
How to Sign Up: Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
What to Bring: Work clothes, gloves, a potluck dish to share
Why? You'll get to check out the awesome work that we are doing with immigrant farmers, see the beautiful farm, and work outside with a lot of fun people.
Thank you to Zenger Farm for hosting us for our very first Team Meeting. The wonderful and informative Prairie Hale, Community Involvement Coordinator, gave us a tour of the crops, chickens, wetland and bees and taught us more than we could have hoped for about urban farming, food education and food issues that relate SE Portland's many imigrant populations.
We had a great time helping to clean onions in exchange for the tour, especially while wearing our brand new Confluence AmeriCorps hoodies.
Please get in touch with Zenger Farms to learn about tours, volunteer opportunities, sign up a school group for a visit or learn how to purchase their produce.
Our members have finished their Orientation and are headed out to their Service sites to start an exciting year of making Portland a better place. To learn about the sites our members are serving at, check our our Sponsor page.