Thank you, Lauren!

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“During her time with the Corps Lauren has made a lasting impact on hundreds of AmeriCorps members and countless conservation projects in MN and throughout the Midwest.  We are grateful for all her contributions to the Corps and wish her well as she continues in her career.” –Brian Miller, Program Director

Lauren joined the Corps in 2006 on St. Paul’s first ever Water Trails crew. She served as a member & leader for 2 years with St. Paul before moving to the NW district as a leader and Field Specialist. In 2010, Lauren was hired as the NW District Assistant Manager where she stayed for 8 years. After 12 years of service, Lauren is moving on to pursue Graduate School full time.

As she reflected on her years of service, she remembers meeting fellow staff members Brian Miller on her first day as a crew member and Dorian Hasselman on his first day as a crew leader. “It is fun to think back to when we first met and how everyone has evolved. The other staff members have always been great. We are passionate about what we do so it makes for a better work environment,” said Lauren.

Lauren also appreciates the opportunity to see AmeriCorps members grow and change as they go through the program. The thing she will miss the most about the Corps is bringing everyone together for orientation. “It is chaotic and stressful but so gratifying to put improvements and preparation into action,” said Lauren. Which is why it is no surprise that she is pursuing a degree in Human Resources and Education with a specialization in Adult Education and Training. Lauren is dedicated to teaching others and contributing to each individual’s personal growth.

She is proud of the ways she was able to improve education & training practices for the Corps. During her time as staff, Lauren has created better curriculum, training materials and program sequencing that supports programming in the NW District. 

Lauren has a year and a half left to get her Master’s through Colorado State University and then plans to pursue a career in full time program development and training. Her long term goal is to get her Doctorate and become a college professor. “I want to help others become better educators, whether they’re instructors in the workplace, in a school, or in their community."

Even though Lauren will no longer be involved with the Corps as staff, she looks forward to following the organization. “The Corps has a strong future, and I am looking forward to seeing how it grows and develops.” Thank you for your service, Lauren. We will miss you!

My Father's Story

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Willie McKenzie’s Conservation Corps Story

by: Tyronne E. Carter

Willie was born in Guyton, Georgia, in 1921 but grew up in Sarasota, Florida.  In the area where he was born, there were only two paved roads and few people even had shoes.   Like many boys of his generation who were the oldest sons, Willie acted as a surrogate father and was expected to help out his family financially.  As a result, he only attended school until the fifth grade.  He wanted to go further in school but instead worked so that his younger brothers and sisters could attend college.

His first job was working on a celery farm in Sarasota, Florida, starting at age 11.  Willie’s father had offered his three oldest sons to work in the fields at the celery farm.  The work was very hard, since Willie worked six days a week, sunrise to sunset, and was paid only ten cents an hour (or$16 a month).   His father would deny him even 25 cents for a movie, so Willie would refuse to work and sometimes run away from home due to the perceived unfairness of his situation.

When Willie was 17, an opportunity came his way to work in a [Georgia] Civilian Conservation Corps camp.   He was paid $30 a month to help build roads in the area near [Savannah], and was grateful for the opportunity to improve his earning ability.  There were not many opportunities for a young black man at that time in our country’s history, especially after the Great Depression.  Following his positive experience with the Conservation Corps, Willie joined the U.S. Army and eventually became a T-5 Corporal.

With each step, Willie was able to increase his earning ability—including running a whiskey still while in the Army!

Like many other African Americans, in the early 1950s Willie migrated north to Philadelphia in search of better working and living conditions.  Without a formal education, though, his job prospects were limited to manual labor:  cement mixer, longshoreman, general laborer.  Some of the jobs he performed were downright dangerous, back-breaking and unpleasant, such as loading heavy tubs of iron ore onto ships.  One job at a beef processing plant involved loading barrels of beef on a truck and cleaning livestock manure out of pens.   All day he would go from cold room to outdoors and back again.  His doctor advised him to quit the job, as it was having an adverse impact on his health.   He did, and in 1957 took a civil service test to work at the Post Office.  He scored 97 out of 100.  Willie worked at the post office until he retired in 1980, and often said this was his favorite job next to the Conservation Corps.     

Willie met his wife and started his own family in Philadelphia, and both parents passed on to their seven children the assumption that with a better education they could aspire to a better life.  One of Willie’s children, Dr. Tyronne E. Carter, eventually relocated to Minnesota and is currently involved in providing STEAM programming to under-served student populations via a nonprofit corporation, America’s Urban Elementary STEM.  He is also the author of a semi-autobiographical children’s book, “Tyronne Carter Kid Scientist,” that is carried by Hennepin County Library.  The positive experience that the Conservation Corps provided to Willie McKenzie, an experience he often spoke of fondly later in life, thus sparked a chain of upward mobility and community service for his family.

© 2017 Tyronne E. Carter

Alumni Advisory Council Accomplishments

2017 marked the first year of Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa’s Alumni Advisory Council. The council was created to support our mission and goals by helping the organization strengthen our alumni network. Seven members joined the council this year and helped develop alumni engagement strategies, assisted with planning events, recruitment efforts, and fundraising and provided input to staff and board from an alumni perspective.

Through quarterly meetings and ongoing communication throughout the year, our team researched alumni needs & wants, tested new events, shared ideas and built a framework for ongoing Alumni Council projects.


Lots of exciting ideas are already in the works for next year and most of our current council members are returning for a second term. However, we would like to expand the council! If you are interested in staying engaged with the Corps in a new way, consider applying to be part of our 2018 Alumni Advisory Council. Applications are due January 12. Apply online.

Meet our 2017 members.

Hear from one of our Alumni Council members, Caitie Ryan-Norton:

This year 7 alumni have been serving on the Alumni Council to engage Conservation Corps alums, and connect current and future corps members to some of the opportunities and pathways that the Corps can open up for individuals. As council members we have helped to coordinate and facilitate events, written articles, and encouraged engagement in our communities.

The Corps has led each members of the council on unique pathways, from a 35 year career in natural resources, to continued service in the United States Coast Guard, to working to make our natural resources accessible to all people. The skills and relationships we have built throughout our time working with the Corps has been invaluable.

This year we have been asking current and former members of the Corps about what they learned during their service term. As I reflect on this question, and as the year draws to a close, I see how the Corps taught me to value the work of those around me, and the importance of a strong work ethic. I have also developed friendships that have stretched far beyond the hours spent managing our natural resources.

As we look ahead to 2018 I would encourage each alum and friend of the Conservation Corps to continue looking at the impact the Corps has had on your life. There are many ways to remain engaged in the day to day projects of the Corps, including joining the Alumni Advisory Council, recruiting future corps members, donating to support the work the Corps does, and simply reflecting and sharing your own experiences.

I would also like to give thanks to everyone who has contributed to making the Corps experience a positive one for so many young people. It is up to us to continue voicing how important this work is to all of our lives.

Thank you!

Caitie Ryan-Norton

My Corps Story

As the 2017 service year wraps up, we asked our members to reflect on the year and share their fondest memory or greatest accomplishment with the Corps. Take a look at some of their answers:

“Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa challenged me to step outside my comfort zone, take on the role of a leader and make sacrifices for the sake of a bigger goal. I can’t think of any other position that would have made me realize what I’m capable of and brought out the best in me.”

-Alex Cournega

“Going to Florida for 30 days as part of a disaster response team. I got to help a lot of people by clearing hazard trees/snags and debris with chainsaws. I also got to put blue FEMA tarps on roofs with shingle damage. Despite the intense heat and humidity, I acclimated to the climate and workload very quickly and made strong bonds with the crew members I worked with.”

-Grant Muehlhauser

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“Going on disaster response down to Florida. It was a great experience and certainly not one I was expecting. We worked with so many different people and learned so much about them as well. We did a lot of chainsawing down there, a skill that I’ve grown a lot in, and cleared a very large amount of brush. This was my fondest memory because it was the most meaningful work that I have done.”

-Carson Vandiver

“One thing that has truly resonated with me is the people here at the Anoka Conservation District truly care about their work and when a student worker comes in they feel obligated to teach them as much as possible about what they do and how to do it. For that I have been truly grateful.”

-Logan Berg

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“I have learned a lot from this experience, but my biggest take away was the creation of a dream. I was inspired by Dan’s business, Shoreview Natives, and hope to someday open my own tree nursery. It may not happen tomorrow, but it is something I would be passionate about! I’ve talked about this to my family and friends and hope that someday I can fulfill my plans!”

-LeAnna Bender

"Earlier this fall I helped organize and run a partner event with MN Parks & Trails and Health Partners at William O' Brien State Park. This event was meant to introduce families to State Parks and had a number of activities like hiking, fire building and fishing. While helping out at the fishing pier, I met a young boy who expressed that he had never fished before but was very excited to try. After showing him how to use the fishing rod he made his firts cast and within seconds had a fish on his line. After coaching him through reeling it in, he pulled up a 12' bass. The look of sheer joy and excitement on his face will definitely stick with me for years to come."

-Brad Chatfield

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“One of my favorite experiences so far this summer has been helping put on the Redwood-Cottonwood Rivers Control Area’s kayak trip down the Redwood and Cottonwood Rivers. big learning experience came through water sampling. Once a month I go out with a member of RCRCA on lake sampling runs. We go to 10 lakes throughout the area and take secchi disk readings, as well as dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and pH readings.”

-John Botsford

“Before the Conservation Corps I wasn’t exactly sure if I wanted to go into law enforcement, environmental science or forestry. During my time with the Corps I got to learn a lot about the different conservation/environmental fields through project hosts. Not only did I learn what field is best to go into, but I also learned what employers are looking for in a job application and how to professionally talk with higher ups. The Corps was a great experience overall and I would highly recommend it to people who love the outdoors.”

-Sophia Holmes

“I have been fortunate to be exposed to a variety of practices through working with a range of conservation professionals ranging from foresters to engineers.  My term of service has been an incredibly educational experience and has prompted me to have an increased understanding and curiosity for environmental conservation.”

-Declan Devine

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“I have been learning different ways to improve water quality, such as rain barrels, rain gardens, and buffer strips. Using different kinds of equipment, I have learning how to monitor streams and lake levels, as well as what the data is being used for. Issues related to water have been important to me, especially since the Augsburg River Semester. This could help decide what kind of career I should go into.”

-Mike Madson

It's difficult to encapsulate how great this year has been in a single memory or accomplishment. The real highlight for me has been all the people I've met and the storied I've hear working across the Iron Range at different mines. Getting to know the people, their memories, their concerns and their hopes has been a challenge and a reward. Preserving their history while exploring old mine buildings everyday was more than I can put in a paragraph. Each day I uncovered new artifacts, new stories and explored a new place in the mine and it was an ideal term because everyday was an adventure into the past and the amazing history and people of the Iron Range. Every place we go as Corps members, we take a little of that place, that comraderie and that experience with us. I think I can speak for the others when I say we will keep all of these things with us for the rest of our lives."

-Ian Dunshee

“One of the most critical incidents for me in my service has occurred more than once. Many times while doing shore land restoration projects and rain garden installs, the landowner comes out to chat and to ask questions when we first get to the site. To me, this is one of the most important parts because having that face-to-face conversation and laying out your plan for them is something that cannot be done over the phone.

The sense of accomplishment and pride when the project is done is a feeling that cannot be described, and to see the look on the landowner’s face when it’s all said and done is very satisfying. It is even more fulfilling when the landowner didn’t understand and may have had their doubts beforehand.”

-Logan Ridel

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“Through this job, I’ve passed fields of Canada thistle, and logged harmful wild parsnip on almost every road I’ve passed. I too often feel the discouraging, overwhelming weight of insignificance that pulling one clump of leafy spurge will do. And I often wonder why we’re still fighting.

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But, then nature lets me see through the tiniest window. I get to peek into the world of a single caterpillar readying its body for a great transformation on a plant that is as intertwined to that species as fish are to the river. The natural world has so much beauty in it, and people rarely get a glimpse. But I would encourage anyone to take a step back from the forest—from the wild worldview of giant habitat destruction and massive projects that decimate ecosystems—and look at the trees.”

-Shelby Roberts

“The threat of invasive species to this environment is great. I am grateful to be a part of the search for invasive species to help keep this diversity.  This opportunity has taught me a lot about the native and invasive species in the streams and woods surrounding and how they can impact the structure of an ecosystem.”

-Sara Rother

"This past fall I spent several weeks doing watershed education workshops and fall paddling events. On the last day, I was absolutely exhausted and had lost my voice. An area volunteer asked to sit in on my session. After all of the fourth graders left he came up to me and told me that he hadn't watched someone so clearly articulate a lesson while maintaining excitement. 'They all knew what you were talking about; it's truly a gift.' Knowing that all the planning, and driving, and being goofy with fourth graders actually made a difference made it all worth it.

-Danielle Yaste

“I hadn’t worked with high school students before this experience but it was rewarding to know that I was able to teach them a thing or two about nature, even if I needed a little help myself. Since this experience, I have been immersed in numerous situations when I have taught and been taught, gained valuable skills, and grown as a professional and as a person; this was exactly the experience I was hoping to gain from my Conservation Corps service.”   

-Dan Wolski

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My Puerto Rican Deployment

By: Landon Acre-Kendall

When our AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team had our first day in the field it became truly clear that Maria held nothing back on the Island. The landscape was a ruin of decimated vegetation. The trees were plucked out of the ground like weeds. There was endless debris and trash piled above my head on sidewalks and scattered about open areas. The people were living in destroyed homes without roofs, power, and water. It was an eye opening experience and it motivated us to work that much harder every day for those less fortunate than us in Puerto Rico.

One of the most enlightening and heartwarming aspects of my deployment to me was working with all the new people we met in Puerto Rico and getting to know our own teams so well. The members and supervisors from WCC were great. Elliot always surprised us with his own blend of strange and unexpected humor and at the same time was a very professional and knowledgeable Incident Commander. The people from other teams and organizations such as CCC, Team Rubicon, and Samaritan's Purse all made lasting impressions on us as well. However, the friendships and teams created within CCMI will be everlasting. We all grew to know each other very quickly and within weeks it felt as though I've known these people I just met my entire life. 

Another part of my trip that I will always remember will be my interactions with the local people of Puerto Rico. Though there was a tough language barrier I could always read the voices and faces of the people around me. I would see elderly couples laugh, smile, and say thanks to me and my team and it was always a touching moment. I saw a younger couple with a baby and children have sighs of relief and cries of joy and laughter as they watched a tree come falling down from a very hazardous situation on top of their house. Though I couldn't fully understand their words I thought as though I could feel their gratitude. 

My favorite part of being here was using our specialized skill set for an amazing cause. I will always remember one of the bigger trees we tackled  (see IMG_0796 for after picture). One afternoon we were canvasing for a job and we stopped to talk to some people of the community. When we mentioned that we cut trees one old man’s eyes lit up and he started going on about this giant tree blocking entrance to his entire house. He was talking about how everyday he would be forced to climb through a massive hazard tree's wreckage just to access his house. We followed him around a couple blocks to his house as he told us bits about his life. This man once lived in the United States and was a horse jockey for several years of his life. When we arrived at his house we immediately were excited by the look of this project and how it was going to be a fun one to disassemble. We slowly took apart the massive tree piece by piece. It was one of my favorite big jobs with a very grateful and kind man. I will never forget his face or his house. 

Puerto Rico was a great experience I feel as though I've grown a lot as a person but more importantly this trip has inspired me to grow even more beyond this trip alone and never stop growing. I want to continue to inspire and help others for the rest of my life.

CNCS leadership visits Florida disaster relief operations

By: Kristina Luotto

This week, leadership from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) came to visit & tour our disaster relief operations in Southwest Florida. The CNCS Senior Leaders were Chester Spellman, AmeriCorps State and National Director; Deborah Cox Roush, Senior Corps Director; and Gina Cross, Acting AmeriCorps NCCC Director. Chester and Deborah are both new to their positions, so this visit to SW Florida was their first orientation to the AmeriCorps Disaster Response Teams, services, structures, and programs.

Here in SW Florida, the CNCS leadership saw our AmeriCorps members running a command staff meeting and visited crews working in the field. After a tour of field operations, the CNCS leadership toured our base camp and ate dinner with us in our dining hall.

Being able to share our disaster relief and recovery experiences with senior AmeriCorps leadership was an incredible experience. I came away from the experience feeling proud and inspired to continue with national service. Thanks for making the trip down to SW Florida, Chester, Debbie, and Gina!

Learning through service

There is no one way to learn. Visual learners understand lessons best through images and spatial understanding, while auditory learners prefer sounds and music. A physical learner uses their hands, body and physical touch to learn, while logical learners prefer to use reasoning and systems. Individual learning needs are diverse so by offering options within educational settings, we are preparing young people for greater success.

Conservation Corps uses a variety of techniques to build participant knowledge and experience including hands-on practice, lecture-style training, and group learning. However, the one practice that is always present is service-learning. Service-learning is defined as an approach to teaching and learning in which students use academic knowledge and skills to address genuine community needs. Participants spend time outside of a traditional academic setting to learn and grow which leads to greater success in school and in life while benefiting the community.

Service-learning gives participants a chance to connect with their community and consequently see their part in it. They gain a deeper understanding of the complex causes of social problems while building leadership skills, social responsibility, and strong moral values. Academic outcomes are also impacted as school attendance and engagement often increases and access to college and careers widens.

‘Youth Outdoors’ is one example of a program that incorporates service learning. Youth Outdoors connects Twin Cities teens to the natural environment through hands-on conservation and neighborhood beautification projects. It empowers young people to become active, engaged citizens and leaders. Over 75% of projects focus on natural resources and 25% on community service. Youth gain job and career-planning skills and learn about natural resource management, ecology, science, technology, environmental conservation, and Minnesota natural and cultural history. They also learn to plan and execute community service projects and lead volunteers.

This spring, Youth Outdoors completed nine service projects. Each youth crew designed a service project for their community and completed it on the last Saturday of the term. Check out their projects listed below!

·         YO1 – Cleaned-up trash at Harriet Island.

·         YO2 – Made a bat house and created a mural at Frogtown Farm. 

·         YO3 – Built a bench and a bat house. 

·         YO4 - Made a bee hotel for Tamarack Nature Center.

·         YO5 – Built a little free library for Powderhorn Park, and a bench for a community garden in North Minneapolis.

“The two best things about Conservation Corps are that the community building is so strong and that the work is so worthwhile and meaningful.” –youth member, Katherine

Small moments, big impact

What are kids into these days? Video games, fidget spinners, Snapchat? There are always new and exciting toys and technology competing for young people’s attention. But what about good old fashioned ‘playing outside’? Our Conservation Interns know the importance of getting kids outside to learn and play and are working hard to re-spark their interest in the outdoors.

Elana Zien is a Conservation Intern at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge where she was trained to deliver interpretive programs to the public. Sophia Buysse is a Conservation Intern at Chippewa National Forest where she interacts with visitors and campers all day long.

See their stories below about those little moments that make a big impact.


Elena’s Story:

“MOM! LOOK AT THIS! The iPad says we just saw a big brown bat!” This was the excited shouting that could be heard (perhaps for miles) in the woods of our refuge, at 9 pm on a weeknight during one of the bat hikes led by the staff of ecological services and a couple refuge interns. Ecstatic shouts might be a common sound on the refuge, and it won’t be the last time we find a bat or get kids excited about the creatures that share the refuge with us, but it was the one of FIRST times that I felt like a real naturalist while working at the refuge. It’s these kinds of small moments that can be significant if you let them be.

Now rewind about three weeks back from this moment, to a small conference room upstairs and a fresh faced group of interns going through Certified Interpretive Guide (CIG) training, in hopes that moments like this one could be a regular occurrence for them at Minnesota Valley. If you look closely, you’ll see that at least one of the interns has doubts about her skills as a naturalist and abilities as an interpretive guide. (Hint: if you couldn’t guess, that intern was me). Notice, however, that I said “was;” as in, when we go look at the intern with the iPad at the bat hike again, we notice that most of that first week anxiety and almost all of that trepidation is gone now.

It was this small moment with a little brown bat and the excited little boy who had spotted it that I realized small moments can be such a big deal. This one was a big deal because it warmed my heart to see the curiosity and sheer joy exuding from a student and future steward. It was a big deal because this moment had come about so easily, and it felt so natural to me; without even thinking about it, I had guided the learning of someone in a way that had given them a greater appreciation for and understanding of something on our refuge. It was a big deal because I got to observe firsthand the positive impact that a “light bulb moment” can have, on anyone, no matter how small it may be. Perhaps most importantly, it was a big deal because I was helping to advance the work and mission of the refuge, which is to not only preserve and protect wildlife and critical habitat, but to make it accessible for all those who wish to experience it.

Most of all, though, that small moment was a big deal to me in terms of personal growth and what I can look forward to. It meant that I’m getting better at my job, and growing more confident in my position as what I like to think of as an inspired guide of sorts. It meant that the enthusiasm and passion for conservation that I have is something that I’m able to share with everyone who comes to the refuge. And really, what more could I possibly ask for?


Sophia’s Story:

As a Naturalist on Chippewa National Forest, my position involves many hours spent talking with visitors and campers on Chippewa National Forest, planning for programs, and exploring the forest. My week starts with a visit to the Boys and Girls Club on Wednesday mornings. There is usually a group of 15-20 students waiting when I arrive. Though it takes a few minutes to convince them to clean up their toys or put away their books and come into the classroom, telling them what we are going to talk about or hinting at the activity usually works! (If you have a bat skeleton, they are very interested in the program). My challenge begins once I start my program. There are always about five kids who are very excited to learn about the given naturalist topic, whether it is bees, bats, trees, or the water cycle. These kids help to keep others quiet and listening, and already know the answers to many of my questions. The Boys and Girls Club has pushed me to learn how to control a classroom. As a more reserved individual, it is a challenge for me to go beyond raising my voice while fighting with fidget spinners and other distractions for attention. As the summer has gone on, I have gotten better at controlling the classroom, but the Boys and Girls Club presents a challenge that I will continue working on. I have started to plan a shorter program to be done with the whole group with an optional extension program for those who are further interested. I have only tried this for two weeks, but it has worked well.

The rest of my week is filled with a Naturalist Meeting on Wednesday afternoons, and working in the visitor center Thursday through Sunday. My time in the visitor center is spent preparing for programs, presenting programs, organizing educational crafts, and talking with visitors. I am also finding larger projects to work on, such as brainstorming ideas for a natural playground. This experience has confirmed that I enjoy working with people, and pushed me to consider careers that would allow me to spend time out of an office or laboratory and with the community.

This position has already taught me many lessons, and we are only half way through! It has been a learning process from figuring out how to plan a program and write lesson plans to marketing my programs and creating displays for the visitor center. I have had many new exciting new experiences, such as seeing my first Showy Lady’s Slipper in person, and exploring new places, such as restored CCC Camp Rabideau. Everyone I have met on Chippewa National Forest has been welcoming and excited for me to be here. The work atmosphere has encouraged me to work hard, ask questions, and take advantage of this unique opportunity as a CCMI Conservation Intern and a Chippewa National Forest Naturalist.