When I first joined TXCC as a crew leader, I only had five months of trail work under my belt, a college degree in a field that no longer interested me, and my only leadership experience came from managing fellow students part-time at my university’s dining hall. I was saddled with student loans, lacking in many real-life skills, and without purpose or career goals.
I grew immensely from my time in Texas, and around the country. First, it came with my own crew leader training: classroom and field-based education on trails, chainsaw use and maintenance, herbicide application, Wilderness First Aid and CPR, local ecology, and leadership skills. Since working with other conservation corps and federal agencies, I’ve gotten to appreciate how thorough those trainings were, even with the limited funding a small, non-profit has at its disposal. The chainsaw trainings put on by the TXCC staff, for example, were as good, if not better, than any official certification I’ve received since then. I still feel confident in my abilities, not only in completing these kinds of tasks myself, but in teaching others, and in understanding the reasons behind the methods. TXCC’s emphasis on teaching the whole picture for each and every project gave me more ownership and pride in what I did, and gave me the knowledge to be able to assess and plan for situations I encountered in the future.
I had the challenging and powerful experience of responding to several disasters across the country as an Emergency Response Team leader. At times it was heartbreaking: seeing the immense destruction first hand, and speaking with people who had lost their homes, belongings, or loved ones. At other times, it was beautiful and awe-inspiring: meeting some of the most selfless volunteers, and genuinely incredible human beings, that I’ve ever had the honor to know, and witnessing communities who had lost so much come together to help each other rebuild their lives. I tell people now that disaster relief showed me some of the best and worst aspects of humanity. It was also an indescribably stressful, fast-paced, and complex work environment that I previously had known nothing about. Having that kind of responsibility – knowing my actions affected individuals and whole communities in such an immediate way – was terrifying, empowering, and ultimately some of the most meaningful experiences of my life.
But the learning process never stopped throughout my time with TXCC. The value placed on jobs training and education of its members truly shows. I was constantly improving or learning new skills, and was encouraged by the staff to spend time on such opportunities for my crew members as well. I left TXCC to spend two years with the U.S. Forest Service as a professional trail worker. When I looked back, I had an immense appreciation for the amount of training and work we accomplished at TXCC with a much smaller budget. I loved the feeling of being on such a hard-working crew, and longed to get back to that enthusiastic, motivated, inspiring atmosphere.
I’ve now found my way back to the conservation corps world, securing a position as a Crew Supervisor with the Washington Conservation Corps, whom I’d had the opportunity to work with as a TXCC Crew Lead after Hurricane Sandy. I feel lucky to be back in an environment of growth and opportunity, of helping young people lacking in purpose or confidence or real-life skills realize how strong they are, the strong social bonds they can create, and how important it is to give back to our local communities and natural spaces. I believe whole-heartedly that the TXCC model changes people’s lives and the communities they live in, and encourages young people to stay engaged and active in their local society wherever they may end up next. The importance of service, of believing in one’s power to make big differences by starting small, of bringing positivity and hope into the forefront of every obstacle one tackles, is such a unique and important lesson, especially when it’s so much easier to be jaded and indifferent. I know I have often fallen victim to apathy when confronted with challenges that seemed too big to overcome, as have many other young people I know. The TXCC program taught me to choose action over apathy, enthusiasm over pessimism, and showed me how infectious that mentality can be to those around you. I bring those lessons with me every day to my new crew members in Washington.
I ended my service with the Texas Conservation Corps much stronger physically and mentally, with a wealth of marketable skills and friendships, debt-free, and more committed to being an active, engaged citizen. I truly am a better person, personally and professionally, because of TXCC.