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A week of problem solving

by Kira Pollack, Youth Outdoors AmeriCorps member

When people ask me what I do in my service term, I usually summarize thusly: “youth engagement and chainsaws, but not at the same time.” The Youth Outdoors umbrella covers a wide swath of ecological restoration and youth development experiences and, until recently, included the School and Community Forest crew. Before their grant expired, I tagged along on SCF’s final project near Grygla, MN.


The project seemed straightforward: make a dent in the construction of a picnic pavilion. The site host’s goal is to bring more youth out to the Goodridge School Forest and his plan includes creating a school bus-accessible road.

My crewmates and I hopped into the truck Monday morning full of nervous energy. Christian, Kristin, and I were excited to spend the week spiking together, but unsure how we would get the job done. A couple months into my term, I feel confident with a chainsaw, and I built two Little Free Libraries with my youth last term, but a pavilion is different ball game. This project proved an opportunity to think critically and apply what we’ve learned so far.

Our crew measured out the perimeter of the structure, dug out post holes, removed boulders, and prepared the posts. Over halfway through the work week we thought we were ready to set the corner posts with cement. Once those were done we could set the gable posts. Easy Peasy!


But despite our double checking, only two corners were right. My uncle is a carpenter. “Measure twice, cut once” is drilled into me; but I would argue the saying should be “measure thrice, square twice, pour concrete once.” So we spent the rest of the day digging out the sides of the holes so the distances were exactly right and triple checking that the posts were coplanar and plumb before we set them.

I was discouraged by how little it felt like we had done. But my crew leader thanked us “for a week of problem solving.” She reminded us that starting from scratch is the hardest part, but the progress we made will set up the next crew for further success. In the Corps we practice Safety, Quality, Quantity, in that order. The work we completed is work I am proud of. This week another crew is heading out to take another crack at it.

I know they’ll do great work, but I’ll be happy to sleep in my own bed.