The never ending winter

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We all can agree that this has been an extra-long winter. After a weekend of nearly two feet of snowfall it feels as if spring is nowhere in sight. The cold temperatures and late snowfall has been especially hard on our field crews, who spend nearly all of their time doing project work outdoors.

Grace Leppink, Crew Leader with the Three Rivers Wildlife Crew, spoke about how her crew has been impacted by the never-ending winter. “Last year at this time, we were in full fire prep mode. Burn season is super delayed this year. I bet we are about a month behind,” said Grace.

The Wildlife Crew takes on a variety of tasks during their service term, however, this time of year they are typically clearing trails, chopping dead wood and prepping for prescribed burns. Instead, the crew has been doing a lot of invasive species removal by clearing buckthorn.

Luckily, the crew has a good attitude and tries to make every day fun and motivating. “Even the average work days are important,” said Grace. However, the snow did make for interesting work conditions. During chainsaw training this year, the crew had to get creative, designing a makeshift sled to transport gear. Project breaks also often include a quick snowball fight between the crew members.

With proper gear and positive attitudes, our crews are still getting work done in this wintery spring!

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Listening and Learning Together: Brainerd Focus Group

On Tuesday, March 27, Minnesota’s Northwest District held a Focus Group session in Brainerd at the DNR building on Minnesota Drive. The goals of the session were to 1) Develop relationships among stakeholders in the Brainerd area, 2) Identify Brainerd area community needs related to environmental conservation, 3) Gain perspective on Conservation Corps brand awareness in the Brainerd area, and 4) Understand levers impacting career pathways for young people in the Brainerd area. The eight individuals who attended provided insightful feedback particularly on recruitment, partnerships, and community needs. These stakeholders represented many organizations including the Minnesota DNR, Happy Dancing Turtle, Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District, Brainerd Parks and Recreation, and Rotary Club of Brainerd. The final session on Tuesday, April 27, 2pm at Jack Pine Brewery, will summarize results of the first session and discuss strategies to meet community needs followed by a social from 4-6pm. If you live in the area, please join us!  

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Learning and Burning

Learning

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Each year around this time, Conservation Corps trains about 100 new Wildland Firefighters. Crews come together at Camp Ripley for an intense week of training including; classroom lectures, hands-on skills training and a work capacity test. Once complete, members earn an S-130/S-190/L-180 certificate from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources as a Firefighter Type 2. So what exactly does that mean?

AmeriCorps members spend four days in the classroom learning essentials such as; firefighter preparedness, fuel types, topographic influences, watch out situations, fire weather & behavior, cultural components of wildfire, wildland urban interface, and tools and equipment. They also get hands-on practice with fire shelter deployments, map and compass, radio communications, hand tools, pumps, hoses, Type 6 engines, firing devices, mop-up, gridding and line construction. The MN DNR is responsible for leading the trainings, however, members who have gone through the training before were able to assist in advanced leadership roles during the week.

Another component of training is the work capacity test where members must walk for 3 miles carrying a 45 pound pack in 45 minutes or less. If they are able to complete this pack test, then they receive their Red Card, which is an interagency certification that demonstrates a person is qualified to do the required job when arriving on an incident. 89 members completed the pack test this year!

After the training, everyone is qualified to work on prescribed fire or wildfires. Crews from all over the state will participate in on-call rotation status for wildfire incidents in Minnesota.  Four crews each week stand by as reserve crews in case the DNR is in need of assistance during a wildfire. Some of our crews in the Northwest and Northeast District even get to do staffing with DNR Forestry, working side by side with DNR personnel on engines.

“A big thank you goes to DNR staff for dedicating their time and efforts to produce such a valuable training,” said NW District Manager Anja Hogan. “This is not just a job for them. They are actively mentoring, providing good leadership and being a positive influence on our AmeriCorps members.”

At the end of the week, the DNR answered questions about careers in Wildland Firefighting. Even though not everyone will go into firefighting, the leadership skills, situational awareness and grit they learn during this week will apply throughout their entire life.


Burning

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Our Loess Hills crew didn’t waste any time before getting in the field after fire training. March 19-23, the six-person crew participated in the Loess Hills Cooperative Burn Week which included over 65 people from  20 different units made up of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, County Conservation Boards, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Doane College and Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa.

The burn week serves multiple purposes. The top priority is creating leadership and learning opportunities for new and experienced firefighters alike. This year, an S-211 portable pumps course was offered for free as part of the burn week. It is also an opportunity for firefighters in training to initiate task books and have tasks signed off on. Evaluators and mentors are made available for Squad Bosses, Burn Bosses and Fallers. Finally, it’s a chance for large, complex units to be burned to aid the recovery and sustainability of prairie remnant and woodlands in Loess Hills.

In addition to the training opportunities and chances for different agencies to work with one another, a total of 12 units were burned throughout the week totaling 1,243.7 acres.

"Even though the weather didn't turn out as we had had hoped, we got to spend our week working with firefighters from a multitude of organizations and experience levels. It was a great opportunity for the crew to meet and collaborate with project partners throughout the hills and gain valuable experience with prescribed fires. Working in the field gave us the ability to build on our classroom training by using the tools of the trade and watching fire behavior in different fuels under different weather conditions. Crew members were able to serve in a variety of roles and gain confidence in our skills - we started the week eager to learn and ended it with smiling, sweaty, sooty faces." - Inga, Loess Hills Crew Leader

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Annual Thank You Event

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On March 13, we brought together Corps supporters in the Twin Cities including; project partners, donors, alumni, volunteers, friends and family, to celebrate our accomplishments. Attendees had the chance to snack on appetizers, mingle with Corps friends, hear from leadership about important accomplishments and share a beer.

We got to hear from Jill Johnson, our Board Chair, about the important work our members and staff accomplished in 2017. She shared how lucky she feels to be a part of an organization surrounded by inspiring AmeriCorps members, hardworking volunteers and dedicated supporters. Renae-Oswald Anderson, our Interim Executive Director, spoke about the current leadership transition and Executive Director Search Process. Finally, Caitie Ryan-Norton, one of our Alumni Council members, spoke about her Corps experience and why she continues to stay involved with us.

“It was a wonderful chance to take a step back from my day-to-day work and look at the Corps in a broader context and from the perspective of others. Most of all I loved seeing Corps supporters young and old connect and enjoy each other's company,” said Gina Hatch, Individual Placement AmeriCorps member.

Nonprofit work is often challenging and overwhelming, so it is important to take the time to slow down, recognize our accomplishments and celebrate a job well done. Thank you to all of our supporters who dedicate their time and energy to restoring resources and changing lives.

New Blogger! Harley Lott

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Name: Harley Lott      

Crew/Program/Position: Mankato Crew 2/12-month field crew/ crew member

Hometown: East Bethel, Minnesota

College: Vermilion Community College

Favorite food: Homemade Swedish meat balls

Hobbies: Biking, backpacking, hiking, fishing, hunting, camping

Favorite outdoor activity: Biking

Person or experience that has most influenced your life: Being part of an interagency type 2 IA hand crew out of Minnesota and battling fires out west.

New blogger! Kelsey Brock

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Name: Kelsey Brock

Crew/Program/Position:  Southern District, Mankato Crew/ field crew program / Crew member

Hometown: Colville, Washington

College: University of Wisconsin-Platteville

Favorite food: Cream cheese rangoons

Hobbies: Running, Hiking, Writing, Reading, Drawing,

Favorite outdoor activity: Going for a run

Person or experience that has most influenced your life: Moving around a lot gave me the chance to see a lot of beautiful places and people, and taught me to welcome change a lot more.

Behind the scenes at orientation

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Each year, Conservation Corps program staff prepare for a hectic but exciting start to the season. Within the first two months of the year, hiring for new members wraps up right as orientations begin. New members gather for a week of training and bonding to kick off their service term. Here is a behind the scenes look at what a typical field crew orientation week is like.

Monday: AmeriCorps members meet in their individual districts to get acquainted with each other, their shop location and begin to learn some key Corps tips including;

·         Living on the AmeriCorps Stipend

·         How to carry, use and store tools safely

·         Essential gear needs

Tuesday: On day 2, crews come together to meet other district members and staff. They learn about AmeriCorps and Conservation Corps’ history, mission, goals and program details. They also take care of some of the essentials such as uniforms, paperwork, benefits and conservation 101.

And don’t worry, there is free time for fun and bonding including; ice fishing, hiking, cross-country skiing, broomball, gym time, games and movies!

Wednesday: Day 3 is spent entirely on technical skills training which includes;

·         Safety & Risk Management

·         Teams/Conflict Resolution

·         Outdoor Survival

·         Hazard communication

·         Project host interaction and SPIKE details

Thursday: Orientation week ends with sessions on AmeriCorps policy, diversity and invasive species trainings. A key note speaker wraps up the day before crews depart for their individual districts.

Orientation wouldn’t be possible without our Member Experience Coordinator, Carrie Danner. She spends months preparing for orientation and makes sure everything runs smoothly. Thank you Carrie, and all of our program staff for kicking off another great year!

The Trail Ahead: Learning for the Future at the Annual Corps Network Conference in Washington D.C.

By Melissa Cuff

In February 2018, The Corps Network (TCN) Annual Conference brought 275 people to Washington D.C. for five-days in order to share best practices, promote innovative approaches, and build relationships with others across the movement. The Conference theme, The Trail Ahead, helped us to envision the next chapter for America’s Corps.

The Corps Network supports over 130 of America’s Service and Conservation Corps, providing critical leadership to the movement. Every year, The Corp Network’s efforts enable over 24,000 diverse young people, ages 16-25, to strengthen communities, improve the environment and transform their lives through service in Corps programs. Ultimately, this work harnesses the power of young people to tackle some of America’s greatest challenges.

Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa was well-represented at the TCN Conference with six staff members attending from the areas of programs, administration, and development. Each of us played a unique role in the conference experience. Program Director Hollis Emery presented for the workshop, Translating the Corps Experience into Career and Educational Success, explaining how school partnerships and career exploration are woven into the fabric of the Youth Outdoors program. Data Systems Administrator Nicole Zyvoloski presented for the workshop, Improving Efficiency by Optimizing Data Accessibility and Management, where she explained our implementation of the Sales Force customer relationship management (CRM) platform. As our leader in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), Board/Executive Administrator Garnetta Lowman participated in all sessions of the Moving Forward Initiative conference track. Member Experience Coordinator Carrie Danner served as our TCN Education Award Program (EAP) representative attending conference sessions related to the EAP AmeriCorps grant. Program Director Brian Miller leveraged his 14 years with the Corps by engaging in critical conversations with colleagues and government agency partners across the movement including the Public Lands Service Coalition in-person meeting. Finally, my role as the newest team member was to learn from others across the movement. I also represented us at the Voices for National Service Annual Steering Committee.

Conference plenaries and workshops left us feeling inspired and motivated! Some of my favorite conference moments were those that helped me envision the future. Dr. Dorceta Taylor provided an overview of her research to create a more diverse environmental movement. The session on GIS Story Mapping showed us the power of images to capture how we are restoring our natural resources. The partnership for the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps meeting, with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, explained how the initiative provided thousands of America’s young people and veterans the opportunity to build urban and rural economies through national service.

At the Voices for National Service Awards event on February 13, Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa was featured in U.S. Representative Billy Long’s award video. He was honored with the Congressional Award for his support of national service in Missouri.

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On the final day of our trip to Washington D.C. several of us visited with our elected officials to communicate the importance of our projects in Minnesota and Iowa. We enjoyed our time with staff of Minnesota’s U.S. House Representatives Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison, and Tim Walz along with U.S. Senator Tina Smith. We also had the opportunity to personally meet with Iowa U.S. House Representative David Young.

On behalf of the staff who attended The Corps Network Conference in 2018, we want to thank the Board of Directors and Interim Executive Director Renae Oswald-Anderson for investing in our professional development. We are so grateful for this privilege and look forward to opportunities to implement what we learned during the upcoming year.

 LEARNING BEGINS: staff are welcomed by Woodsy Owl, mascot for the United State Department of Agriculture Forest Service (pictured left to right: Hollis Emery, Garnetta Lowman, Melissa Cuff, and Brian Miller)  

LEARNING BEGINS: staff are welcomed by Woodsy Owl, mascot for the United State Department of Agriculture Forest Service (pictured left to right: Hollis Emery, Garnetta Lowman, Melissa Cuff, and Brian Miller)
 

 MINNESOTANS UNITE: Northern Bedrock Historic Preservation Corps staff members Rolf Hagberg and Rhea Harvey (center) meet up with Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa staff Melissa Cuff (left) and Garnetta Lowman (right) at the Voices for National Service Awards.

MINNESOTANS UNITE: Northern Bedrock Historic Preservation Corps staff members Rolf Hagberg and Rhea Harvey (center) meet up with Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa staff Melissa Cuff (left) and Garnetta Lowman (right) at the Voices for National Service Awards.

 BUILDING CONNECTIONS: Director of AmeriCorps Chester Spellman, of the Corporation for National and Community Service, visited with staff during the Voices for National Service Awards event.

BUILDING CONNECTIONS: Director of AmeriCorps Chester Spellman, of the Corporation for National and Community Service, visited with staff during the Voices for National Service Awards event.

 VISITING LEGISLATORS: Staff discussed AmeriCorps projects in Iowa with U.S. House Representative David Young.

VISITING LEGISLATORS: Staff discussed AmeriCorps projects in Iowa with U.S. House Representative David Young.

 MOVING FORWARD: Dinner at Ben’s Chili Bowl included an insightful presentation by Hari Jones on the role of African Americans in the Civil War (pictured left to right Melissa Cuff, Hollis Emery, and Carrie Danner).

MOVING FORWARD: Dinner at Ben’s Chili Bowl included an insightful presentation by Hari Jones on the role of African Americans in the Civil War (pictured left to right Melissa Cuff, Hollis Emery, and Carrie Danner).

 SHARING BEST PRACTICES: Nicole Zyvoloski, Data Systems Administrator, presented with three other tech professionals across the movement on the topic of  Improving Efficiency by Optimizing Data Accessibility and Management.

SHARING BEST PRACTICES: Nicole Zyvoloski, Data Systems Administrator, presented with three other tech professionals across the movement on the topic of Improving Efficiency by Optimizing Data Accessibility and Management.

 CELEBRATING YOUNG PEOPLE: Corps member Lance Tubinaghtewa of Arizona Conservation Corps received the Corps Member of the Year Award for his service in the Ancestral Lands program.   

CELEBRATING YOUNG PEOPLE: Corps member Lance Tubinaghtewa of Arizona Conservation Corps received the Corps Member of the Year Award for his service in the Ancestral Lands program.

 

 SERVING MISSOURI: Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa was featured in the  video  showcasing U.S. House Representative Bill Long when he received the Voices for National Service Congressional Award. The award honored his support of AmeriCorps members working in Missouri (pictured left to right: American Youthworks Executive Director Parc Smith, U.S. Rep. Bill Long, and CCMI Director of Development Melissa Cuff).

SERVING MISSOURI: Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa was featured in the video showcasing U.S. House Representative Bill Long when he received the Voices for National Service Congressional Award. The award honored his support of AmeriCorps members working in Missouri (pictured left to right: American Youthworks Executive Director Parc Smith, U.S. Rep. Bill Long, and CCMI Director of Development Melissa Cuff).

 VISITING LEGISLATORS: Staff enjoyed meeting with Alison Titus, Legislative Assistant on Agriculture to Minnesota U.S. House Representative Tim Walz.

VISITING LEGISLATORS: Staff enjoyed meeting with Alison Titus, Legislative Assistant on Agriculture to Minnesota U.S. House Representative Tim Walz.

 

Welcome to the Corps: a letter from alumni

Dear AmeriCorps members,

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We are excited to welcome you to the Conservation Corps. Even as alumni we can still recall the feeling of the first few weeks of a new service term; the anticipation of new skills and training, as well as the uncertainty and excitement of meeting the people you will work, live, eat, and sleep under sky with for the next eight months. It is that nervous energy that comes on the edge of a new experience. The clarity of those memories for many of us comes from a fact to which many Corps alumni will gladly testify; the Conservation Corps experience is formative, influential, and uniquely meaningful.

Our excitement for you also comes from knowing the work you have chosen to become part of, and the continuity of effort that you, this year’s service members, represent.  As much, if not more than any other time in Minnesota and Iowa’s history, Conservation Corp crews are irreplaceably vital to the integrity and conservation of these state’s natural heritage. On the fire line, clearing trails, restoring prairies, and combating the spread of invasive species, the work you will be tasked with is where the rubber meets the road. Draw pride and energy knowing that you are afforded an opportunity to make a tangible impact for our community every single day. Your service joins a long legacy of Civilian Conservation Corps, Minnesota Conservation Corps, and CCMI service members. We all take great pride in knowing you are carrying that history of service forward.

In welcoming you to the Conservation Corps, we also want to extend our support. Your experience will without a doubt be unique, and present its own set of challenges and gratifications. However, you are also going to be confronted by difficulties and questions that were shared by Corps alumni during their service terms. Whether your doubts and questions arise on the ninth day of a buckthorn-clearing spike, or from working a project that just doesn’t quite feel like conservation or service, alumni are eager and available to lend our experience and support. You need only to reach out.

We wish and expect all the best for you in the upcoming service term, and hope to connect with many of you along the way.

Sincerely,

The Alumni Council
alumnicouncil@conservationcorps.org

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New Alumni Council Members

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Anthony Bieker

  • City, State currently living - Minneapolis, MN
  • Favorite Food - Cheeseburger Pizza
  • Favorite Outdoor Activities - Camping BWCA, biking, hiking, running.
  • What are you doing now? - Regional Sales Manager
  • Most impactful experience with the Corps - Giving Back to Society (Joplin Tornado Disaster Relief)

 

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Calyn Rieger

  • City, State currently living - Dassel, MN
  • Favorite Food - Cheese pizza with pineapples
  • Favorite Outdoor Activities - Environmental clean-ups and camping
  • What are you doing now? - Full-time high school student and soon to be college student
  • Most impactful experience with the Corps - The Corps has allowed me to find my passion and grow and expand my passion for trees, the environment, natural resources and politics/government.

 

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Danielle Yaste

  • City, State currently living:  Fargo, ND
  • Favorite Food:  Coffee
  • Favorite Outdoor Activities:  Hiking or canoeing, or portaging a canoe (best of both worlds)
  • What are you doing now? Working at the International Water Institute as a Monitoring and Educational Specialist
  • Most impactful experience with the Corps:  Disaster responses in both Baton Rouge and Puerto Rico
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Frank Herman

  • City, State currently living:  I currently reside in Blaine MN
  • Favorite Food: This is a tough one. My cravings vary from pizza to sushi.
  • Favorite Outdoor Activities:  Fun in the outdoors include backpacking, hiking, camping, fishing, hunting to sightseeing the beauty nature has to offer. 
  • What are you doing now? Besides being the parent of four children, I am the principal of Robbinsdale Cooper High School
  • Most impactful experience with the Corps: The summer of '88 was one of creating great memories with wonderful people, hard work and gaining a deeper appreciation of what  it takes to balance the preservation of nature while still making it accessible for all to enjoy. 

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.

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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.