Deciding what to do with my life is a question that rolls through my mind every day. Have I fulfilled my life dream yet? Have I landed my dream job? Have I narrowed down what I want to do? These questions make many of us jump in our seats and make our palms sweat. Who would ever truly be able to answer these?
I was going through one of these life crises when graduating college, just like many other seniors. I had narrowed down some interests: working with youth and being outside. But I also wanted to be able to say, “Yeah, I used my degree in Biology!” As I looked for science and outdoor education jobs throughout the country, I stumbled upon the AmeriCorps program at TSS. A couple months later, I drove into Coyote Canyon without any idea of what to expect. I was immediately greeted by bright, smiling faces and introduced to my cohort of 10 other individuals.
Within the first two weeks of my experience, I knew that TSS was for me. The AmeriCorps term gave me the ability to grow as an educator and challenge myself everyday. I spent my two and a half months of service working with five different schools, going on an outreach trip throughout Idaho, working with school gardens in the community, and writing lesson plans on the Muries that highlighted science and leadership. I also formed some of the best friendships and found some of the best mentors I could ask for. Despite all this, I have now realized that during my own service, I didn’t fully realize the impact that the AmeriCorps program has on the TSS and greater Jackson communities.
Since then, as I have stepped into various roles within Field Education at TSS, I have started to realize the true and immense impact. Each week instructing and working with AmeriCorps members challenges me and encourages me to sharpen my skills as an educator and mentor. I’ve learned so much from each member. As an instructor, working and collaborating with a new AmeriCorps member each week meant that it was difficult to fall into a monotonous routine, teaching the same lessons over and over. Each cohort brings fresh energy to this canyon, reviving and challenging what we know and do each season. Without this change in dynamics three times a year, I believe we would lose sight of the benefits of individual and team growth.
I have had the pleasure of working with six different cohorts of AmeriCorps over the past couple of years. Each of these cohorts brought something new to the table, from geology lessons to staff trainings in multiple content areas. The TSS AmeriCorps program first started in the Summer of 2009. Seven years later, we are currently celebrating the 25th cohort and 285th – 299th individuals, who together have served over 100,000 hours. The program has grown in size and mission over time to serve the community needs. Currently, this fall cohort is focusing on building STEM literacy in out-of-school programming in the greater Jackson community. Not only do we have members that serve in Field Education, but TSS serves as a hub site for AmeriCorps members to work with partnering organizations such as Teton Raptor Center, Jackson Hole Children’s Museum, and Teton Literacy Center.
This week we are celebrating AmeriCorps throughout the United States. The Corporation for National and Community Service will be swearing in their one-millionth AmeriCorps member this week. TSS is a part of this large family of service. Each AmeriCorps member here is offering up his or her time to serve in this place, be challenged, live in community, grow, and push TSS forward. We celebrate all of the time they put into bettering this community and place.
When I asked this current cohort, “Why are you here?” many of them expressed a desire to give back to nature and to other people. It is this essence of service that creates sustainable impact from each cohort. I am a proud alumna of the service term and grew in more ways than I could have imagined. Now, I am relishing in what each member brings to this greater community. It has been such a joy to learn from each and every one of them.