Green River Preserve and AmeriCorps

By Ruby Compton

Our very own Missy Schenck and Anne Mead wrote an article featured in the 2014 March/April issue of the American Camp Association’s Camping Magazine. Please read the excerpts below or click here to view the full article.


Working at camp, we often feel like we need forty-eight hours in a day, three extra hands, a winning lottery ticket, and the ability to be in two places at once. As camp professionals, we are always adding to our lists while multitasking and brainstorming the next fabulous idea. But camp people also have the trait of being resourceful and looking outside the box. When we did this at Green River Preserve (GRP) three years ago, we discovered AmeriCorps Project Conserve.

Project Conserve

According to the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC), Project Conserve was founded in 2004 “to respond to the growing conservation needs in western North Carolina. The program focuses on collaboration with nonprofit organizations, community groups, and local governments to provide service throughout the region” (2013). Project Conserve is staffed through AmeriCorps interns who spend a year working with a local nonprofit conservation organization identified through CMLC.

Project Conserve serves western North Carolina by building stronger, more educated, and more involved communities that understand the threats to their local environment and are equipped with the tools and resources to take direct conservation action. Project Conserve ensures significant opportunities for the community to engage in conservation activities through volunteering. Through the efforts of communities and the direct service of AmeriCorps Project Conserve members, the ultimate hope is to increase the amount of land and habitat conserved, protect and enhance water quality, promote local food and agriculture, and support energy conservation throughout the region (AmeriCorps Project Conserve, 2013).

How GRP Utilizes Project Conserve

GRP is both a natural and unnatural fit for Project Conserve and AmeriCorps. Natural because we are a nonprofit with a mission striving to respond to the “growing conservation needs” in our local and global community. Unnatural because we are a summer camp and the first in our region to collaborate with AmeriCorps. Together, we are an organization that fits a niche.

In our first year with Project Conserve, we were able to further develop our farm-to-table program. Catrina Dillard, our Project Conserve service member, worked with our farm managers to plan, plant, harvest, and water plants; take care of chickens; teach campers about sustainable agriculture; and write grants.

Catrina also helped GRP expand our outreach efforts in the community. One of our goals as an organization was to familiarize community members with our organization. One of Catrina’s outreach efforts included hosting monthly community hikes on the preserve with one of our professional naturalists.

With Catrina’s help, we were also able to develop a children’s naturalist backpack project for the library, which we had wanted to do for several years but for which we could not find the time. Catrina made it possible for twenty-five naturalist backpacks to be available for young people to check out and learn about the land in their own backyard through the Hendersonville County Library. Not only did Catrina set up the partnership with the library, she also designed an interactive nature journal to include in the backpacks, along with tools (binoculars, magnifying glass, etc.) young naturalists would want to use in the nature.

Now in our second year with Project Conserve, our AmeriCorps volunteer, Charlotte Pate, focuses primarily on continuing to build our community outreach programs and to initiate or assist with new ones. In addition to AmeriCorps Project Conserve community volunteer days ranging from trail building to river clean ups, Charlotte assists the farm managers with planting, harvesting, weeding, and general operations around GRP’s sustainable agriculture farm to further strengthen GRP’s farm-to-table initiative. In addition, she is working with farm manager Rachel Meriwether to develop a curriculum to bring local school children out to the farm, and Charlotte is assisting with grant writing to make this dream a reality.

An exciting new project that Charlotte is also helping with is Camp to Go, GRP’s newest environmental education program. In an effort to help connect children with nature and the world of summer camp, GRP will begin rolling out Camp to Go to various schools throughout the United States. Government cuts to funding for school programs continue to play havoc with children’s options of playing outside and connecting to nature, and we recognize that there will always be children out there who need camp but will not be able to attend. If the children can’t come to us, then we will go to them. Camp to Go will be housed in a tiny camp cabin replica on wheels, and Charlotte is helping us create the curriculum we will use for the program.

Challenges

Although GRP has been able to achieve many programming goals with the Project Conserve partnership, there are a few things that were a challenge at first. We had to apply for the program (which is a grant) and ensure that we met all the qualifications set forth by AmeriCorps. Project Conserve is a pretty detailed grant — it requires a lot of staff time to complete, and an application must be resubmitted each year.

In compliance with the grant, GRP also meets regularly with the supervising agent of AmeriCorps and Project Conserve. There is a lot of monthly paperwork that goes with a grant and keeping up with this is a discipline, but it is now much easier than at first. In order to comply with some of the guidelines of the grant, we went back to the drawing board with some of our outreach projects and ideas and actually now feel they are stronger. We have also been fortunate in the first two years to have many qualified applicants, and we hope this continues.

How AmeriCorps Can Help All Camps

The hallmark of GRP is to teach young people to be better stewards of the land. Like many camps, we strive to empower the next generation of conservation leaders. What special programs at your camp could be improved or better maintained with the help of AmeriCorps?

When we look back over the last two years, we realize that many of our camp dreams are now really happening because of our AmeriCorps intern and Project Conserve. It’s amazing what an extra pair of hands can help you accomplish, and we encourage you to get involved with the AmeriCorps programs in your area!