To succinctly describe service or, more specifically, serving for AmeriCorps would be missing the point of the organization. My recent month and a half of experience does not resemble that of friends or other members, it does not resemble any idea or notion I maintained about AmeriCorps, and though it most certainly is service it is too rewarding and too fun to feel much like I am serving in the common use of the word. It is a privilege to have this space, which allows me to call attention to the ways in which serving with the right organization through AmeriCorps has brought so much abundance into my life.
Cascade Mountain School and I happened upon each other in what might be called the eleventh hour. I knew I wanted to serve with AmeriCorps and for months I had been furiously emailing my resume and various forms of a cover letter to the positions that fell into my interests and skills. I read the Mt. Adams Institute mission statement and positions plenty of times; I had applied to the Public Lands Stewards program before hearing about Cascade Mountain School. As I heard more about the school and the opportunity with AmeriCorps, I knew I was a good fit, and even though I had other offers I did not hesitate to confirm that if it seemed right for Cascade Mountain School it was certainly my first pick.
I could describe my roles in many ways, one that I recently heard is, “willingness to tackle without complaint a million different tasks that arise”. To unpack that daunting mission it is helpful to know that Cascade Mountain School (CMS) is a series of experiential education programming for children and adults. CMS partners with community members who have the knowledge to develop a camp, along with AmeriCorps to facilitate life changing outdoor learning. My million different tasks arise mainly in the children realm; I work with several camps over the summer, mostly overnight camps.
So far I have worked with…
MacGyver overnight camp, where we spent a week with middle school students building a seasonal shade structure, from the ground up. We spent days trying to break through huge basalt slabs before devising a plan of rock cribs instead. We cut down and stripped trees for poles. We hoisted our shade sails and spent the better part of the afternoon making adjustments. We built picnic tables and benches. We made a mess, we cleaned it up, we eat together, laughed together, went caving together. And together we made a shady area that can be used every summer, and already is constantly in use as each new group comes to Cascade Mountain School. Just to be very clear I say we, but the seven young adults who came to participate in the camp were responsible for the lion’s share of the work that went into this structure; and behind the curtain was the true mastermind behind the concept, Jack Perrin, of the Gorge MakerSpace. The list of what we accomplished and the fun we had is extensive; luckily pictures will lend some more vibrant explanations:
I learned so much working with the MacGyver Camp; it was an absolutely perfect way to kick off the summer camp season.
Following that camp I had time to do some more development for my upcoming Intro to Backpacking Camp; it required a lot of organizations of gear and learning about curriculum that I would need to pass along to the students. The time before camp began dragged along slowly and suddenly arrival day was upon us, and just as suddenly it was over. How can it be that we did so much and yet it flashed by faster than a breath? Everyday we had a new adventure planned, from our day one hike to the top of sleeping beauty, to packing up and getting ready to head up Mount Adams. We spent two nights camped out, carrying all of our gear, food and water. These middle school students had the opportunity to learn glissading, cooking in the woods, we facilitated lessons on glaciers and off-trail navigation, as well as solo contemplative time on the mountain. They also experienced the flow of glacial springs, one day gushing the next day frozen solid; and the occasionally frustrations of camping stoves and other gear. Though it took us almost an entire day to reach our resting place on the third day each student bounded down the mountain with a silent determination that truly impressed me. We followed backpacking with white water rafting on both the Klickitat and the White Salmon rivers. And in true experiential learning style, we wrapped up the week having the students present their week to their parents, from the mountain to the valley and every game and riddle in between. Again I was lucky to have students who were tough and cooperative and an instructor, Kenji Stasiewicz, who I trusted and admired as a leader; and again I found myself learning and leading at once.
Part of my service is spent being on call at any time of day, but the other is under the support and guidance I receive from the Mt. Adams Institute staff. They are truly a community of caring individuals, all working toward the mission statement that drew me in from a sea of opportunity, “strengthening the connection between people and the natural world through education, service, career development & research”. I feel very blessed to have found myself in a place of such natural beauty and such strength of spirit and heart. Unbelievably, the summer if now half way through, I have more camps to lead and more hours to serve but even if it had to end today I would be so grateful to AmeriCorps for seeing the potential to partner with great organizations like Mt. Adams Institute and Cascade Mountain School.