Stairway to learning: a Shakopee Crew in action

By: Melissa Cuff - May 23, 2018

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Oak Ridge Elementary School of Leadership, Environmental and Health Sciences now has a brand new 56 step stairway giving access to an outdoor classroom for 580 students of Eagan, Minnesota. This project was completed by the five-member Shakopee Crew over a three-week period in late April and early May.

Construction of the stairway required members to complete many tasks in sequence such as reading blueprints, grading, measuring, sawing, working with hand tools, and lots of digging. Shakopee Crew members also developed teamwork skills as they faced many challenges typical of outdoor construction projects including a delayed project start due to April snow storms and colder than expected working conditions.

When asked about the experience overall, Crew Leader Will Franta shared, “It was challenging at first to figure out our roles and tasks for this project because of its technical nature. But, once we got into a rhythm we realized that we could do anything that we put our minds to.” The confidence and discipline that Will describes is so critical to success in life.

Project experience is also inspiring Corps members to think beyond their service. After only four months, Shakopee Crew members shared their personal goals for the future:

“I plan to finish my bachelor’s degree in ecology.” – Alex

“I’d like pursue a career in wildlife conservation through a position with the Minnesota Zoo or with the Minnesota DNR.” – Kelsey

“I plan to join the Peace Corps.” – Amanda

“I’m hoping to discover a career I’m best suited for through this year of service.” - Joe

Thank you to Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Public Schools (District 196) for supporting this meaningful project at Oak Ridge Elementary School. This project benefited not only the Eagan community, but it also made a positive difference in the lives of five young adult Corps members.

Our employees are experts

Our employees are experts. With degrees in environmental education, geography, biology and natural resource management and certifications as RXB2 burn bosses and arborists, Conservation Corps is lucky to have such skilled, dedicated employees. Beyond environmental expertise, many Corps staff also need to be experienced youth development workers.


Brian Hubbard, our Individual Placement Program Manager, has a Masters of Education in Youth Development and Leadership from the University of Minnesota and participated in the After School Matters Fellowship in 2013-2015. Through Action Based Research, Brian and 15 other Out of School Time (OST) Youth Work Practitioners participated in monthly writing workshops to develop content around their current work. Brian focused his research on the Corps Youth Council and his final paper was eventually submitted for review to participate in the national fellowship. This led to a weeklong writing workshop in Philadelphia with 20 other youth workers from around the United States. After about 3 years of writing, re-working and edits, his article was accepted into the After School Matters Journal.

Brian also has published chapters in two books; ‘Youth and Inequality in Education, Global Actions in Youth Work’ and ‘Evaluating Civic Youth Work’. “This was some of the most profound professional development in my career and contributed to my understanding, knowledge and experience of direct youth work practices,” said Brian. “It’s amazing to be with the Corps doing great work with incredible people and given the space and time to write and shed light on the amazing youth participants in the programs!”

Read Brian’s work:

Evaluating Civic Youth Work (Available in June 2018)

Youth and Inequality in Education, Global Actions in Youth Work. *Chapter 12.

After School Matters Journal (Download the text in top right of web page)

After School Matters Fellowship:

Corps Youth Council project archive:

Citizen Scientists

By: Danielle Yaste


The International Water Institute (IWI) is a watershed based Non-Profit that has been working within the Red River Basin for over 15 years.  As an organization, it supports decision making, data collection, and education throughout the watershed, with its hallmark program being “River Watch.”  The River Watch program pre-dates IWI starting in 1995 as a response to a lack of water quality data in the Red River Basin.  In order to meet the data deficit, River Watch trained and utilized high school students to monitor their local rivers as citizen scientists.  Since then, River Watch has grown to include, on an annual basis, over 300 hundred students who continue to collect data, conduct annual projects for the River Watch Forum, and participate in River Explorers trips, which gives students the opportunity to paddle down their tributaries (some of which, have been maintained by NW CCMI Crews!).  River Watch currently works in both North Dakota and Minnesota and is consistently taking on new and engaging projects, making it a true cross-curriculum approach to watershed education.


One of the many students to come through the River Watch Program was a young man by the name of Andy Ulven.  Andy went on to complete his Bachelor’s Degree in Geography and upon graduation he took an Individual Placement Position with Conservation Corps MN and Iowa.  During his term he visited his home watershed to share with River Watch students the opportunities that were available to them through CCMI.  A partnership was born.  Since this first interaction, IWI has utilized the Individual Placement at the University of MN Extension for collaborative work during the River Watch Forum, and then in 2015, the organization placed its first Individual Placement: me.  My name is Danielle Yaste and I served two terms with CCMI and now am a member of the Alumni Advisory Council.  I, along with CCMI alum Andy Ulven, work as a Monitoring and Education Specialists at IWI, allowing me to spend a large portion of my time working with River Watch and encouraging the youth of the Red River Basin to get outside and experience their watershed. 


IWI currently has an Individual Placement, Kyle Glowa, who splits his time over multiple projects, including River Watch.  This past year, River Watch was able to offer a college and career fair to our High School participants and CCMI was proudly included in that event.  River Watch would not be possible without its multiple partnerships, and CCMI is one of those valuable partnerships.  Due to the collaboration and the development of the recent Individual Placement position, River Watch granted the Partnership Award to Brian Hubbard and the Conservation Corps of MN and Iowa.  The award was given in celebration of Hubbard and CCMI’s passion for environmental stewardship and their continued work of inspiring young professionals.  Creating a culture of environmental stewardship and awareness takes collaboration, and we are thankful for the opportunity to work with an organization like CCMI to create that culture.

To learn more about River Watch check out our Facebook Page:

Or our Website:

River Watch is funded primarily by the Clean Water Legacy Fund, Red River Joint Water Resource District and the Red River Management Board.

Adventure Station


Need help planning your next outdoor excursion? Stop by the new Adventure Station at REI in Bloomington! The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Parks and Trails Department and REI have partnered to launch the Adventure Station, a space to get free resources and advice on outdoor trip-planning.

Helping staff this new station is Individual Placement, Aimee Junget. Aimee is the Urban Outreach Specialist placed at the DNR, a new position focused on connecting new audiences to the outdoors.  “I love connecting people to things they didn’t know are available,” said Aimee. The Adventure Station is equipped with resources such as brochures, maps, iPads and guidebooks to connect people to new opportunities in the outdoors. “I have had great conversations with a variety of people. From those that have never stayed at a State Park to one guy who has been to every State Park in the state!” said Aimee.

Visitors can use the Adventure Station to plan their trip from start to finish. Aimee helped two women plan their first camper cabin trip from scratch! “It is fun to plan a trip with someone who is so excited to try something they have never done before,” said Aimee. And even though there is still snow on the ground, people are anxious to get outside to camp, climb, cycle and paddle at Minnesota state parks and trails. Bike trips are especially popular!

As a second year AmeriCorps member in our Field Crew and Individual Placement program, Aimee appreciates the variety of experience she has gained with the Corps, and is making the most of this brand new position.  She is excited to continue to build partnerships in order to connect new audiences to the outdoors.

The REI Adventure Station will be staffed regularly Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. as well as Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

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!  


Learning and Burning



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.



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


Annual Thank You Event


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


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.


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,


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.


The Alumni Council


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.



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

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.


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