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Finding your own path in AmeriCorps

When I joined GrizzlyCorps, I realized one of the main strengths of GrizzlyCorps/AmeriCorps is its focus on personal and professional growth. Because of AmeriCorps’s structure for earning hours, you can choose how you spend your time in GrizzlyCorps more than in most traditional employment situations. Your ultimate goal is to earn 1700 hours of service, and you have significant flexibility in how you earn those hours.

Up to 20% (340 hours) of your hours can be “Training” hours. Training hours include activities hosted by GrizzlyCorps or external training that help you progress towards your Professional Development goals. In other words, you can earn Training hours by doing pretty much anything* that you’re interested in. Separate from Training, you can also earn “Community Service” hours by volunteering with 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations. Finally, a good supervisor will build some flexibility in your scope of work so that you can do work that interests you and best takes advantage of your skills. I’ve found working at a Resource Conservation District (RCD) to be an especially good setting for this. Because RCDs usually have a diverse set of projects (and always need some extra hands), I’ve been able to dip my toes into a lot of different kinds of work.

I’ve used all of the above methods to progress towards my 1700 hours goal, while exploring my interests and cultivating skills that matter to me. Here are some of my favorite things that I’ve done to make my GrizzlyCorps experience my own:

1. Hosting WinterFest

One of my co-workers at Gold Ridge RCD needed a group of volunteers to help him install a set of plants along a creekside strip of land that was being restored at a local dairy. I brought up a group of 13 GrizzlyCorps Fellows for an all-day workday at the dairy, where we installed 70 young plants and cages to protect them from critters.

To thank the GrizzlyCorps volunteers for their time, I organized a team-bonding event for that evening. Everyone piled into a couple of cars, and we went out to Dillon Beach to watch the sun set (and do a polar plunge 🥶).

We then cooked dinner together and sat down for an Indian food feast at the Valley Ford Schoolhouse, a one-room schoolhouse owned by Gold Ridge RCD and used for events.

Some of us also stayed overnight and went to the beach again the next morning.

*GrizzlyCorps team bonding at official GrizzlyCorps events like this one count as Training hours!

2. Learning GIS

Before coming to GrizzlyCorps, I had never worked with GIS (Geographical Information Systems). GIS are computer-based tools for storing, analyzing, and visualizing geographical data - in other words, maps! Knowing how to use GIS is increasingly becoming a fundamental skill for ecologists and natural resource managers, necessary to represent various aspects of the land we study and protect: vegetation, parcels, environmental conditions, management plans, etc.

I made one of my Professional Development goals for the year to learn how to use ArcGIS (one of the most commonly used GIS softwares) and demonstrate my ability by creating at least 3 maps during the year.

I learned the basics by following several self-paced mapping tutorials published by ESRI, the company that publishes ArcGIS. My largest project has been to create an interactive online map for the Carbon Cycle Institute so that people can view what interesting carbon-farming-related programs each RCD has. I’m still learning how to add the interactive components, but with my new skills, I’ve been able to create the basic map to build off of:

A screenshot of a draft of my first map, showing the RCDs in California, colored by their Carbon Farming Regional Hub membership.

It’s very satisfying to make a map.

3. Volunteering with community organizations

To get in some extra hours on the weekends, I’ve also done some extra volunteering with local organizations. My favorite organization to work with has been Nature in the City, a San Francisco-based non-profit that works to connect people in the city to nature and cultivate natural habitats. During our workdays, we tend gardens and natural spaces around the city.

Through Raini, another GrizzlyCorps Fellow, I’ve also gotten involved with Mariposa Trails, a trail-tending organization in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Bill and Beth, the people that run the organization, are fantastic. During the two overnight outings I’ve attended, we’ve reflected on readings from naturalists together and practiced reading the landscape, in addition to clearing brush, digging drainage trenches, and fixing tread.

These weekend outings have been a great way to get outside, reconnect with nature, and spend time with new friends.

What’s coming next? I’ll be attending a workshop on how to collect vegetation and rare plant survey data and attending basic Wildland Firefighter Training.

Whether you’re a current AmeriCorps member or thinking of joining, one of the main perks of AmeriCorps is the training and educational opportunities. If you don’t take advantage of this time to explore and grow, you’re missing out! I hope this article gives you some ideas for how to get the most out of your service term.

*training & external service hours have to be loosely connected to the goals of GrizzlyCorps (environmental/community resilience to climate change)

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