By Stephanie Beard
This month we celebrated AmeriCorps Week. AmeriCorps is a government agency that focuses on uniting individuals who choose to participate in service to their community. There are different programs for different age groups, but a lot of people choose to do a service “gap year” before or after college. I know, because I was one of those people! I did a program called City Year when I graduated from college, and it changed my entire life and mindset for the better. It wasn’t easy and there were many difficult learning lessons, but I’ll never regret my year of service.
There are many programs that fall under the AmeriCorps umbrella from City Year to VISTA to a newer program created by UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment called GrizzlyCorps. This is where Pepperwood comes in, because we have on our team not one, but TWO GrizzlyCorps fellows! Makayla Freed has been with Pepperwood for two years through this program as our Field Technician, while Sophia Pruden joined us this past year as our Restoration Technician.
The AmeriCorps ethos runs deeply through all of its programs, so I was curious how this new program through the UC system, with an environmental service focus, was instilling AmeriCorps’ mission of improving lives, strengthening communities, and fostering civic engagement through service and volunteering. To find out, I asked Makayla and Sophia to share their own experience.
Q: Why did you choose to do AmeriCorps?
Makayla: After volunteering, interning, and working seasonally with Pepperwood for several years, I was made aware that Pepperwood had a GrizzlyCorps fellowship position opening up. I was excited at the possibility of working full-time at a great organization doing work I’m passionate about. I had been working shoulder to shoulder with Michelle Halbur, Pepperwood’s Preserve Ecologist, for a few months learning various project protocols and developing greater plant identification skills. With such great mentoring from Michelle and other Pepperwood staff and years of place-based knowledge at the reserve, I knew that a transition into a full-time role could be a great fit and had the potential to open doors for future opportunities at Pepperwood and/or beyond.
Sophia: I wanted to do GrizzlyCorps because it allowed me to stay in Sonoma County for a year continuing to build on my professional development and training in applied restoration ecology. I wanted to serve at Pepperwood specifically to learn more about regenerative grazing and prescribed fire and because Pepperwood is a leader in active land stewardship and implementation of Traditional Ecological Knowledge led by the Native Advisory Council.
Q: What important opportunities has AmeriCorps facilitated for you? For your professional goals?
Makayla: Through my GrizzlyCorps service at Pepperwood, I have gained valuable experience with volunteer engagement, project management, and general research experience. I’ve had the opportunity to take on roles and responsibilities that have pushed me to become a better problem solver, coworker, and ecologist. The knowledge and skills I’ve gained in being involved in a wide variety of projects has made me more confident in my ability to take on whatever job tasks are thrown my way. Looking at job descriptions used to intimidate me, but now I find myself saying “I can do that.”
Sophia: This program has supported me in becoming Firefighter Type 2 certified, allowing me to join our local Prescribed Burn Association, and be involved in the prep, ignitions, and post-fire monitoring of oak woodlands, redwood forests and grasslands. I get to work alongside our grazing partner, Markegard Family Grass Fed‘s crew in learning about how to manage grazing for ecological health. I am also much more proficient in plant identification, specifically native perennial grasses, and also how to use more land stewardship tools such as chainsaws.
Q: Americorps’ overarching mission is to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering. How have you been living this mission through your service at Pepperwood?
Makayla: My time at Pepperwood has allowed me to work with volunteers to steward and monitor the land while building a sense of community. Pepperwood is beyond lucky to have a dedicated volunteer base that shows up in cold, heat, rain, shine, and more to do great work all while keeping the sense of community at Pepperwood strong and vibrant. The combined efforts of volunteers continuing this great work, and Pepperwood providing fun/smile-filled workdays and projects has been a very inspiring experience during my service.
Sophia: I am grateful to be a part of the Pepperwood Volunteer Workdays, the first Saturday of every month, which engage our community and get people out on the land learning about restoration. It is inspiring to see the dedication of such a diverse group of individuals who show up every month ready to work on restoring the environment. Additionally, I like to think I am improving lives when involved in our prescribed burning as this reduction of fuels throughout the reserve is creating a more resilient landscape that will burn much less intensely when a wildfire happens. (Pictured: Assistant Preserve Manager Devyn Friedfel, Restoration Technician Annie Madden, and Sophia)
Q: Why is conservation, science, and stewardship important to you?
Makayla: Conservation, science, and stewardship are vital to humankind’s approach to addressing perhaps the greatest threat we’ve ever faced: climate change. Science-backed conservation and stewardship approaches to addressing the effects of climate change are key to preserving natural resources, biodiversity, cultural traditions, and much more.
Sophia: Land Stewardship is important to me because it’s the only source of livelihood I can see myself pursuing! It’s where I am happiest. Conservation science and restoration ecology are fields of study that need more public engagement and understanding, as it’s how we will be able to understand the climate crisis and restore ecosystems to mitigate impacts to society. Stewardship connects me to where I live and creates a relationship between myself and the land that I think is crucial for more people to pursue.
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