Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Restoring the environment while changing lives

Ecology’s Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) is an AmeriCorps program that affects countless lives each year. WCC enables young adults (ages 18-25) and recently returned military veterans to build their résumés through environmental service. Members who complete a year of service earn an AmeriCorps Education Award ($5,645 dollars in 2015) to apply to existing student loans or future tuition expenses.

The following is the story of WCC alumna, Sarra Tekola (2011 Crew Member), who turned her life around with the help of the WCC. 

Being accepted into the WCC was nothing short of a miracle and my time with the program forever changed the course of my life.

Before I started working with the WCC, my life was at a crossroads. I was seventeen, in an early-college program with no idea what I wanted to go to school for. On top of that, I was battling drug addiction. That is why I saw my acceptance onto the WCC King County crew, under supervisor Kris Buitrago, as a miracle.

Immediately upon acceptance into the WCC, I went sober. Here was my second chance. I couldn’t mess it up. I realized if I was as worthy as the college graduates I competed with for my new position, my life was too valuable to waste on drugs and alcohol. Thus began the paradigm shift in my life.

My time at the WCC built both character and muscle. Through restoring the earth, I restored myself. Before the WCC, I had a very arrogant attitude and an unprofessional demeanor. But, through social influence from my WCC team members, I became more humble and conducted myself more professionally. The training and the quarterly professional development plans helped me create a path for my future.

AmeriCorps taught me the importance of volunteering. Whether planting trees or rehabilitating wild animals, volunteering gave me the endorphins I once sought out in other unhealthy places, and it made the world a better place. I became a volunteer junkie. To date I have volunteered for eleven different projects, including as a salmon naturalist with Friends of the Cedar River; master urban naturalist with the Seward Park environmental center; and as a beach naturalist with the Seattle Aquarium.

I used my AmeriCorps education award toward a year of tuition in community college, earning my Associate of Science degree. I then transferred to the University of Washington and have one year left to complete my Bachelor of Environmental Science and Resource Management.

In addition to my academic work, I conducted independent research about climate change at the Friday Harbor Marine labs in the San Juan Islands and at Purdue University, Indiana. I also co-lead a group called UW Divest, where we worked with the University of Washington Treasury to move $25 million of their endowment out of fossil fuel stocks and invest in renewable energy stocks.

Through the combination of my newfound love of volunteering and the AmeriCorps scholarship, I have earned additional funding for all of my education. I have secured $54,000 in scholarships, fellowships and research stipends and I should be able to graduate without any loans. In fall 2014, I will be applying to graduate school where I plan to get a Ph.D. to study solutions to climate change.

This all started with the WCC AmeriCorps program. I am going to make a difference in the world and I know none of this would have been possible without the WCC giving me a second chance at life. This program was a game changer and a lifesaver.  I hope it stays around forever.


Rabbits' Guy said...

I hope the powers that be read this post. I know that the story may be a bit of an exception, but I have known so many AmeriCorps and WCC and PSC workers over the past few years and their dedication and the things they learn and the potential they go forward with is outstanding. A really great program.

Camille St. Onge said...

Thank you for the great feedback. It's a wonderful program and builds a strong future for so many.