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The Trail Ahead: Learning for the Future at the Annual Corps Network Conference in Washington D.C.

By Melissa Cuff

In February 2018, The Corps Network (TCN) Annual Conference brought 275 people to Washington D.C. for five-days in order to share best practices, promote innovative approaches, and build relationships with others across the movement. The Conference theme, The Trail Ahead, helped us to envision the next chapter for America’s Corps.

The Corps Network supports over 130 of America’s Service and Conservation Corps, providing critical leadership to the movement. Every year, The Corp Network’s efforts enable over 24,000 diverse young people, ages 16-25, to strengthen communities, improve the environment and transform their lives through service in Corps programs. Ultimately, this work harnesses the power of young people to tackle some of America’s greatest challenges.

Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa was well-represented at the TCN Conference with six staff members attending from the areas of programs, administration, and development. Each of us played a unique role in the conference experience. Program Director Hollis Emery presented for the workshop, Translating the Corps Experience into Career and Educational Success, explaining how school partnerships and career exploration are woven into the fabric of the Youth Outdoors program. Data Systems Administrator Nicole Zyvoloski presented for the workshop, Improving Efficiency by Optimizing Data Accessibility and Management, where she explained our implementation of the Sales Force customer relationship management (CRM) platform. As our leader in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), Board/Executive Administrator Garnetta Lowman participated in all sessions of the Moving Forward Initiative conference track. Member Experience Coordinator Carrie Danner served as our TCN Education Award Program (EAP) representative attending conference sessions related to the EAP AmeriCorps grant. Program Director Brian Miller leveraged his 14 years with the Corps by engaging in critical conversations with colleagues and government agency partners across the movement including the Public Lands Service Coalition in-person meeting. Finally, my role as the newest team member was to learn from others across the movement. I also represented us at the Voices for National Service Annual Steering Committee.

Conference plenaries and workshops left us feeling inspired and motivated! Some of my favorite conference moments were those that helped me envision the future. Dr. Dorceta Taylor provided an overview of her research to create a more diverse environmental movement. The session on GIS Story Mapping showed us the power of images to capture how we are restoring our natural resources. The partnership for the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps meeting, with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, explained how the initiative provided thousands of America’s young people and veterans the opportunity to build urban and rural economies through national service.

At the Voices for National Service Awards event on February 13, Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa was featured in U.S. Representative Billy Long’s award video. He was honored with the Congressional Award for his support of national service in Missouri.

sitting around table in office

On the final day of our trip to Washington D.C. several of us visited with our elected officials to communicate the importance of our projects in Minnesota and Iowa. We enjoyed our time with staff of Minnesota’s U.S. House Representatives Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison, and Tim Walz along with U.S. Senator Tina Smith. We also had the opportunity to personally meet with Iowa U.S. House Representative David Young.

On behalf of the staff who attended The Corps Network Conference in 2018, we want to thank the Board of Directors and Interim Executive Director Renae Oswald-Anderson for investing in our professional development. We are so grateful for this privilege and look forward to opportunities to implement what we learned during the upcoming year.

group standing with bird mascot

LEARNING BEGINS: staff are welcomed by Woodsy Owl, mascot for the United State Department of Agriculture Forest Service (pictured left to right: Hollis Emery, Garnetta Lowman, Melissa Cuff, and Brian Miller)

MINNESOTANS UNITE: Northern Bedrock Historic Preservation Corps staff members Rolf Hagberg and Rhea Harvey (center) meet up with Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa staff Melissa Cuff (left) and Garnetta Lowman (right) at the Voices for National Service Awards.

BUILDING CONNECTIONS: Director of AmeriCorps Chester Spellman, of the Corporation for National and Community Service, visited with staff during the Voices for National Service Awards event.

VISITING LEGISLATORS: Staff discussed AmeriCorps projects in Iowa with U.S. House Representative David Young.

MOVING FORWARD: Dinner at Ben’s Chili Bowl included an insightful presentation by Hari Jones on the role of African Americans in the Civil War (pictured left to right Melissa Cuff, Hollis Emery, and Carrie Danner).

SHARING BEST PRACTICES: Nicole Zyvoloski, Data Systems Administrator, presented with three other tech professionals across the movement on the topic of Improving Efficiency by Optimizing Data Accessibility and Management.

CELEBRATING YOUNG PEOPLE: Corps member Lance Tubinaghtewa of Arizona Conservation Corps received the Corps Member of the Year Award for his service in the Ancestral Lands program.

SERVING MISSOURI: Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa was featured in the video showcasing U.S. House Representative Bill Long when he received the Voices for National Service Congressional Award. The award honored his support of AmeriCorps members working in Missouri (pictured left to right: American Youthworks Executive Director Parc Smith, U.S. Rep. Bill Long, and CCMI Director of Development Melissa Cuff).

VISITING LEGISLATORS: Staff enjoyed meeting with Alison Titus, Legislative Assistant on Agriculture to Minnesota U.S. House Representative Tim Walz.