AmeriCorps changes lives

By: Rafa Contreras-Rangel

After being an AmeriCorps member for over a year now, I can honestly say the program has changed my life. Many of the closest friends I have now I met through the program, without the connections I’ve made through the program I would not have my current position as an Aquatic Invasive Species Specialist with Conservation Corps, and I also would not have met the academic adviser I will be starting my Master’s program with in the fall. Many of my views have changed and continue to change during my time with the program. Looking through my old blogs, I can already see how I am different now compared to when I had just started. In this blog I will try to show an example of how I have changed during my time with AmeriCorps.

Last year I wrote a blog describing a typical day for a conservation worker. I explained how I only shared the cool stuff that happened during my workdays, such as cutting down huge trees and administering prescribed burns, while leaving out all the uninteresting parts that usually required hard work. I also happened to make fun of friends that hold office jobs, mentioning how we all know that “my job is still cooler than yours.” When I made that statement, I never would have expected that the following year I’d be working in an office.

This year I am still working with Conservation Corps. While last year I was a Crew Leader, this year I am working as an Individual Placement with the Department of Natural Resources’ Aquatic Invasive Species Program. I signed up for this job mostly to do aquatic invasive species surveys, which would mostly involve me going to lakes and rivers to look for invasive species. This meant I would be able to brag to my friends how now I was scuba diving and snorkeling in lakes and rivers for my new job. Having been born in Mexico, seasonal variation still does not register in my mind, so it did not occur to me that the lakes and rivers I would be working on would be frozen when I started my position in January. So here I am now behind a desk typing up this blog. If you’re one of my friends that I’ve been bragging about my job to, I guess the cat is out of the bag.

Having been part of a crew working in the field for the past two years, I often heard from project managers how they missed being out in the field and how now they are stuck behind a desk. After hearing this from most project managers, it made me start dreading the day when I would get an office job. I remember wondering why someone would ever want to get an office job when you could be working in lakes, forest, and rivers.

Now that I have been working in an office for the past few months, I have changed my views towards working in an office. I have accepted that the feeling of working in the field will never be replaced, but I have also learned to appreciate the work that happens at the office. For my position I have been able to attend senate meetings where various natural resource organization and non-profits make their case to get funding for their projects. Funding that is often used to hire crews like the one I worked on last year. I’ve attended county meetings, where counties meet with DNR experts to come up with the best approaches to manage and restore their lands. Again, these plans often include crews like the one I have previously worked on.

If you don’t work in an office, it is easy to lump all the work that they do as just “office work.” Even if you do work in an office, when explaining to people what you do, it is sometimes easier to just say “office work” as well. While it might be easy to dislike an office job since you’re mostly working behind a desk, I have found that an office job is just as essential as a job in the field. Without one, the other one would cease exist.

As can be seen from my blog last year, I used to not think too highly of office jobs, being stuck behind a desk would be too boring for me, I wanted to be working out in nature and getting the “real” work done. Now that I am working in an office, I don’t see my job as boring and unfulfilling as I thought I would. I am excited to come to work every morning because I know that what I am doing is setting the board for future conservation work. What I do now in the office today will affect what people do in the field tomorrow. I now think of office workers as the master minds working behind the scenes, the people that set the stage so that the actors can shine during the play. 

I can honestly say that if I had not become an AmeriCorps member last year, I would not be the person I am today. All the career goals I have set for myself were created while I’ve been an AmeriCorps member. Fifty years from now I can see myself looking back at my time with AmeriCorps and confidently say that is the place where it all started.