A year in ‘Kenny D’

Welcoming a new Corps

As the leaves turn from orange to brown and fall to the ground, SCA Massachusetts AmeriCorps welcomes another year of corps members—October 2015 will be our 19th year. Eighteen ten-month members arrive in Kenneth Dubuque State Forest by buses, trains, planes and cars on a quiet Sunday from around the country. Many do not fully know what they are getting into, but we are excited to welcome them to “Kenny D,” as we lovingly call our home they range in age from eighteen to twenty five.

The first few weeks in Hawley are filled with games, hikes and orientation to the program, the surrounding towns and places to see and Education Training. The latter of which is where I step in as the Education and Service Learning Coordinator.  Education Training is a long three weeks filled with school visits, parachute games and practice environmental lessons to prepare the members for their eventual in-school service. As Thanksgiving arrives in “Kenny D” it is likely we have already had a dusting of snow—for many members this is a first-in-a-lifetime experience or something that doesn’t happen often.

December brings members’ first days in their respective schools in the Pioneer Valley. Members serve in pairs at twelve different elementary schools for 13 weeks. These pairs, commonly known as Teaching Partners or (Tp’s), build working relationships with each other and then build lasting relationships with their students and teachers. Bringing active and engaging lessons into many of the elementary schools is like a breath of fresh air.  Education season is over in a flash, but throughout the winter season, as you may know, “Kenny D” is hopping with activity: ice skating on the pond, sledding from the bathroom to the pavilion or even a bit of ice fishing (not to mention snow shoveling).

Opportunities are endless when there are 18 young adults ready and willing to try anything in the snow. When they aren’t playing outdoors in the snow, they are huddled around the wood stove in the cramped office designing engaging lessons for the next day at school. Members serve long hours during the winter in order to make their time in the schools worthwhile for both the students and themselves.

As the snow slowly begins to melt, our ten-month members wrap up their last week in schools, and attempt to make sense of their experience, SCA Massachusetts AmeriCorps welcomes an additional eight members for the second half of our program into the tight-knit community built over the last five months.

March often brings more snow, but everyone is itching to get outside. There is only so much indoor space in “Kenny D” for folks and there are a lot of us – 30 all said and done with a full corps and staff. With the spring we have another round of training including Wilderness First Responder training, where members test their acting skills and use fake blood and injuries to save one another from harrowing circumstances. It is a true bonding experience for our five- and ten-month members who have only just met the week before. In addition, we have training around trail work which includes chainsaw, grip hoist and more general trail training. Members will continue to do trail work through the middle of August.

May arrives bringing the first hitch. A hitch is what we call when members go out for ten days at a time to maintain, improve and build trails across the state of Massachusetts. We send five crews to different points in Massachusetts every ten days throughout the season. They may build rustic timber structures, dimensional lumber bridges and steps and even massive rock structures which they quarry from the site. Members return to “Kenny D” on a Wednesday after ten long days and you can see the excitement on their faces to see their friends and give hugs and catch up on lost time as they will be out on hitch after a brief respite.

As August approaches, members’ time in “Kenny D” is coming to a close. It’s been a long year of experiential learning and relationship building. The year comes to a close in the middle of August with our annual recognition ceremony where we thank each individual for their time and service with SCA Massachusetts AmeriCorps and wish them well in the next chapter of their life. It is hard to see members come and go, but it’s the nature of the program.

As a former corps member from 2009-2010, I know from first-hand experience “Kenny D” is a very special place to anyone with the opportunity to take part in the SCA Massachusetts AmeriCorps program. The staff who come in and out of the program, the members and the local community make it worth the stay. When members leave they scatter across the globe sharing their experiences and teaching appreciation of nature, environmental education and conservation. They leave with more than they came with; they leave with new tools and life-long friendships that will help them regardless of what they end up doing in life.

As October approaches each year, and the new members that will be joining us in a few short weeks begin wondering what they are getting themselves into, those of us living in “Kenny D” are excited – the staff. We are excited to share our love of this magical place and know that in less than a year our “Kenny D” family will have expanded once again.