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The importance of AmeriCorps

By: Erika Birnbaum

         Once upon a time there were six lost strangers. The first had traveled across the country from the middle to the west and to the east. One grew up in a small town learning to live off the land. Another lived in the same city she was born in, trying to figure out where she fit. The fourth was constantly on the move, from place to place, living for the next adventure. The other girl had traveled the world looking for a place to call home. The last, but not least, was a young boy just starting out. These six very different lives collided because they all shared the dream of making the world a little bit better than they found it. They found their place, at least for a little while, in Northeast Minnesota working for Conservation Corps. Here they found a place that would let them be themselves, give them work making the Earth cleaner, and train them for life as conservationists.

         For ten months these six lost strangers would give back to their community and gain more skills, knowledge and wisdom than could have ever been expressed in an interview or on a resume.  For the two out of high school, it became the foundation of what they would live their lives for. For one, it was a new adventure, one that he had not experienced during all his travels. Another was looking for something new after his time at college. The other two new college grads were ready to get their feet in the door of their professions. None of them understood exactly how important this year would be for them.

         The biggest gain was the service learning. While their skills and knowledge at the beginning may have been different, by the end they had all accomplished more than they ever knew they could. One month they spent building bridges, another a roof. Some days they were miserable and wet but when they looked back over a project, their hearts soared with pride. Everyday they were making a difference, to people, animals and plants alike. They were testing out new ideas, ones that were unable to be tested by those fearing for job security. Learning practical skills they would use everyday for the rest of their lives. All the while, making a drastic positive influence in their community.

         To them, this community included more then just people. It was the trees struggling for a foothold, the flowers that were hiding under the buckthorn and the animals searching for a home. All these beings and more made up the larger community the six conservationists worked to save. Sometimes they joined others like them who were working towards these same goals–another Conservation Corps crew, or a project host that wanted to make sure the resource was there for their great-grandkids’ grandkids. Working together, these like-minded individuals built and restored state parks, national monuments, prairies, and so much more.

         The six saw themselves as examples, much like a person who joins the military to fight for their country. Only these six were fighting to save it within, with axes and hammers, chainsaws and laughter, hammers and nails. While appreciating the men and women who served their country in their own way, these six strived for a different view. One that showed others, within and outside of America, that this country strived for the best of all beings. That there was a pride for the abundant resources like national parks, scenic byways and our own backyard.

            Today these six continue to be not lost, but thriving with a strong purpose to continue being the individuals that accomplished so much saving in less than a year. They also are thankful that their country understood their sacrifices by forbearing loans, giving them a bit of money for their education, and making sure they had enough to feed and house themselves. Their one wish is that every year a new group of lost strangers has the opportunity they had to make both themselves and the world a bit better than when they started.