Storytelling: How AmeriCorps has shaped JCWC

Last week was AmeriCorps Week! AmeriCorps is important to Johnson Creek Watershed Council and we are using the power of story to share about it. Here are some stories and anecdotes from those AmeriCorps members who have been engaged with JCWC’s work, past and present.

JCWC has hosted several AmeriCorps members serving the council directly, and our riparian program has benefited directly from hosting an AmeriCorps NCCC crew. Many people who have served in AmeriCorps have gone on to become staff here; people involved in many capacities with JCWC have served as AmeriCorps members, kick-starting their careers through the program.

Noah Jenkins, Riparian Project Manager at JCWC:

I was an AmeriCorps member from 2005 to 2007 through Northwest Service Academy, serving at the Johnson Creek Watershed Council, where I led a knotweed control program, did environmental education, and supported the Council’s restoration work. Not only did I learn a huge amount about restoration in the Pacific northwest, and meet a lot of practitioners in the field, but my service led directly to my employment with JCWC, where I’ve happily worked ever since. In that capacity, I’ve had the opportunity to mentor five AmeriCorps members through Confluence Environmental Center, as well as work with crews from the National Civilian Community Corps, and with many fine former Members at agencies and organizations we partner with. AmeriCorps is *everywhere* in the environmental field in this region–it’s almost a rite of passage. To say that the work of AmeriCorps members is crucial to what JCWC does would be an understatement; the countless hours of service they’ve provided to agencies, non-profits, schools, and the people they serve in our community is, in the truest sense of the word, invaluable.

Katie Songer, Restoration Project Manager at JCWC:

Like Noah, I served in AmeriCorps here in Portland with Northwest Service Academy, now over fifteen years ago. To this day, AmeriCorps was the most satisfying work experience I’ve ever had–the work of which I am proudest. It was here in our watershed but not at the Council: My AmeriCorps home was Clackamas High School, where my office was a cramped, stuffy closet off the cafeteria. The office had formerly been a Taco Bell stand, so there was a stove vent above my desk and a soap dispenser above the filing cabinet. From there, I ran the school’s environmental programs (Earth Club, recycling, outreach events, the naturescape), and also tutored and mentored dozens of English Language Learner students. It was all very challenging and hectic, and I loved it!

Along with the work I did, I remember that the year was infused with a spirit of service. My three housemates and I lived within our meager volunteer budgets (impossible now with Portland’s increased cost of living!). I took the bus 1.5 hours to and from work each morning and evening; we found free events to attend and hosted potlucks; we volunteered on each other’s projects. Living and working with each other, and working within many different marginalized communities, gave us all a greater understanding of the challenges faced by many Americans. AmeriCorps has quietly helped shape Portland in wonderful ways; I’m so proud to have been a part of it, and I continue to be inspired by the AmeriCorps volunteers I work with today.

Katie Songer in her AmeriCorps days
Katie Songer with a coho carcass outside JCWC’s office

Roy Iwai:

I served in the AmeriCorps in 1997-1998 with the Northwest Service Academy in Portland.  I had a placement with Oregon Trout (now Freshwater Trust) servicing as the Volunteer Coordinator for the Salmon Watch Program. Through this placement, I connected professionals and volunteers with fish and water quality expertise to help lead salmon viewing field trips for middle and high school students in the Medford, Eugene and Portland areas. I also helped train volunteers to lead water quality and stream health activities.

What I learned through AmeriCorps and through my placement is that the community is made up of a multitude of individuals and organizations, each with unique perspectives and skills.  And the connections between them and their programs is what creates a sense of community, as sense of culture that transcends all the people and organizations in the web.

As the Water Quality Specialist at Multnomah County, I use the skills I learned through AmeriCorps to manage the Water Quality Program. I help build relationships among watershed interests to coordinate monitoring and restoration, and share information between organizations and the public. Repairing watershed health goes beyond jurisdictional boundaries and we need to work together to get things done!

Sarah Eastman:

I served as the AmeriCorps Riparian Technician at JCWC in 2013-14. The hands-on experiences that I was able to have, including plant ID, volunteer coordination, grant writing, restoration planning and crew supervision all helped to launch me into a career in natural resources. Without that valuable ‘outside of school’ experience, I doubt that I’d be where I am today. After serving with the JCWC, I worked for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District, before getting a permanent job at the Oregon Department of Transportation as an Erosion Control Specialist/Asst. Region Environmental Coordinator. Since my work area encompasses the Johnson Creek Watershed, I still get to occasionally work with the Council on projects!

Lauren Senkyr:

I served as an AmeriCorps member for two years.  From 2007-2008 I was up in Seattle working with Habitat for Humanity.  I worked as part of a team of AmeriCorps leading volunteers to build homes for low income families.  I learned extremely useful construction skills, met hundreds of interesting volunteers, and forged friendships with other Americorps members who I continue to see and do building projects with to this day.My second year of AmeriCorps was here in Portland with NOAA Fisheries from 2008-2009, where I’ve continued to work ever since. That position helped me build skills in river restoration, environmental policy, and community engagement. It also connected me to a network of other AmeriCorps members from the Northwest Service Academy that I continue to work with at NOAA, at the watershed council, and throughout the community.

It’s always fun when I realize someone I am working with or volunteering alongside also served in AmeriCorps.  It attracts passionate people who care about their community, are willing to get dirty, and want to contribute to something bigger. As a former board member and ongoing landowner working with the Johnson Creek Watershed Council, I particularly appreciate the AmeriCorps members helping to improve this place that I love so much.

Lauren in her AmeriCorps days

Melanie Klym:

During my AmeriCorps service with the City of Gresham, I volunteered at the Johnson Creek Watershed Council to help organize the library in the resource room and codify it for inclusion on the StreamNet catalog. I had a great time reading through the amazing amount of information there!

Andree Pinnel Phelps:

Amazing experience working Americorps as Assistant Coordinator at JCWC in late 90s. Got to know and learn from many City of PDX employees, Friends of Trees, and the incredible Board and residents of the Watershed. Worked on so many great projects, especially the first Streamwide event and the fish passage project in Eastmoreland. I consider myself really lucky to have worked there and it helped shape all my later work as an environmental consultant. Thanks!!

Stay tuned as this post is updated with more AmeriCorps stories!

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