SCA/AmeriCorps provided me something I consider priceless, and something that helped launch my career. SCA/AmeriCorps provided me what I call ‘dirt time’.
Dirt time occurs when you lead a 25-member SCA AmeriCorps service project to build a 24-foot, backcountry bog bridge, over three 85-90 degree Fahrenheit July days. Dirt time occurs when you design, lead and report on environmental education programing for mixed age groups for the first time. And at best, dirt time occurs when you have a healthy balance between planning environmental education programs in the office, and carrying them out in the field.
A growing body of research suggest that such dirt time satisfies a basic human need to connect with the natural world, both physically and emotionally. Our modern indoor, technology mediated lifestyle represents no more than a blip in the history of our species, and it shows when we get dirt time. Anyone who has lead children in the outdoors knows that they are arguably suited for the woods and fields more than the school desk. It is important to always make time to get muddy, to make time to enjoy the natural world, and to fight to provide opportunities for everyone to do so. I knew providing such opportunities was my calling, but for a time, I did not know how to go about it.
Before my time in SCA’ Hudson Valley AmeriCorps team, I studied wildlife issues and general natural history. I studied ecology, botany, forestry, mammalogy, ornithology, biogeography, wilderness survival and other topics. However, I only had little idea how any of these studies could translate into work or career. Then I found SCA/AmeriCorps, the program providing the most powerful springboard into gathering real experience working in the conservation field.
I used that springboard to challenge myself to grow. After spending years being fearful of teaching (and public speaking), I taught dozens of programs for K-12 students during my first SCA/AmeriCorps term. I got over myself and realized kids were awesome, teaching me so much about myself and presentation skills. I also pushed myself to perform major trail projects, receiving chainsaw and wilderness first aid certifications. SCA and AmeriCorps provided these opportunities, in partnership with my host site at New York State Parks.
After two 10-month SCA AmeriCorps terms, I was hired by my host site as a seasonal New York State Parks employee. Later, I worked for my local land trust as their Stewardship Director, using my SCA experience to both design and lead land stewardship and environmental educational programs. I returned to State Parks in 2013, as an Assistant to the Commissioner, my SCA experience helping me obtain the position. Now, as Assistant Deputy Commissioner, one of my programs is to oversee a statewide education and stewardship program that includes 100 SCA positions. I also oversee a $15-Million-dollar statewide land acquisition program, and public/private partnerships with 75 State Park Friends Groups. I thank SCA and AmeriCorps for the experience. I thank all who read this for prioritizing dirt time.