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The Growth of Community

by Aden Herb, Crew Leader/ AmeriCorps Member with the Summer Youth Corps program of Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa

As a returning AmeriCorps member for Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa with 3 seasons of Summer Youth Corps under my belt (working on my 4th!), I’ve seen the program go through many shifts and changes, both practically and conceptually. With recent events such as the growing demands for racial justice in the Twin Cities and COVID-19, I recognized before the term that this program was going to be very different to any previous summer. The first week we held remote training, including daily reflection on how racial justice intersects with environmental work, and much to my surprise despite the online format, everyone was engaged with all parts of training. Personalities shown through, connections were already being made, and I witnessed the seeds of a community being planted.

Though I recognized that some things were going to have to change this summer, including not having youth members and the new COVID-19 protocols, I also had a feeling that tradition would still play a large part in the experience. As time went on and the first days turned to the first weeks, many of the dearly loved and revered traditions of Summer Youth Corps began to make their way into our daily lives even if they looked slightly different – like virtual Olympics challenges across a whole week instead of a day full of Olympics fun at our typical basecamp in St. Croix State Park. Those who had never heard of these traditions were just as engaged and active as those who had known of these traditions for years. The community was continuing to grow.

As training passed and our crews parted ways across Minnesota, the main portion of our projects began. Through the One Track Mind Foundation, our crew have been privileged to work in some truly miraculous places. Previously I had not traveled to any of the locations where we are serving this summer, so I have appreciated these projects even more for introducing me to new parts of my state. Furthermore, the work itself varies in both technicality and physicality. Already I have built and set a boardwalk with Three Rivers Park District on a mountain bike trail in Carver Park, featured in their virtual Big Woods Classic ride; cleared brush on the Homebrew Trail in Brewer Park with the bikers of COGGS, who are working to connect 40 miles of trails for the Duluth Traverse; and even built new trails in Demonstration Forest with Lake County near Two Harbors.

Though the summer isn’t over yet, I can tell the roots of this community have already begun to grow deep. Many communities grow closer together through unexpected constraints and hardships, and the Corps is no different. Though our lives may not quite be the same, and our routines thrown off course, the communities we build will only continue to grow.