VetsWork: All Good Things Must Come To An End – A Story of Success         

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I write this with an unusual mixture of sadness and excitement. It’s a weird feeling to think that this will be my final blog for the Mt. Adams Institute, as my time in the program will soon come to an abrupt end.

It seems like yesterday that my husband, Jim, and I made the move in February from bustling Champaign, Illinois to rural Doniphan, Missouri in search of “A Better Beginning.” Since I began service on the Mark Twain National Forest in March, it has been a whirlwind. Over the past 6 months, I have had opportunity to supervise and lead four AmeriCorps Trail Crews, design and implement several interpretive school programs within the local community, spear-head wilderness solitude monitoring surveys on the Eleven Point River and in the Irish Wilderness, assist with a new pollinator garden for local butterflies, work with community volunteers and key leaders to partner with Forest Service visions, assist our district Archeologist, our district Surveyor, our Forester, our Fuels Specialist, our Community Service Representative, our Manpower Development Specialist, our Recreation Technician, our GIS Specialist, and most recently, serve on a 3-week detail as a Forest Service Casual Hire fighting wildfires in Colorado.




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And now, only six months after starting the VetsWork Intern Program, I have been hired on as a full-time, permanent Forestry Technician on the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, the neighboring forest to the Mark Twain, just across the Missouri/Arkansas border. While Doniphan and the Mark Twain National Forest will be missed, I am incredibly blessed and grateful to be given this opportunity on the Ozark National Forest, although I had no idea that the opportunities would come so soon.



In essence, this writing is a true testimony to the power of the VetsWork program and how success really is possible for Interns who are dedicated to the program and its goals. Without the experience provided by the VetsWork Internship Program, I would not even qualify for the job I now hold today.

The Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork program absolutely is what members make of it.   While the program does not guarantee a career, or even a job, if you jump in and take every chance to learn, grow, and develop new skills and experiences, you will achieve your goals for joining the program. Whether your intention is to secure a federal job or pursue higher education, VetsWork can get you there. This is a program of possibility.

I would encourage anyone interested in the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork Program to strongly consider the opportunity. While the pay is minimal, the hours are long at times, and the requirements may seem stringent and time consuming, it is worth it.

Trust me, it’s worth it.

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VetsWork: A Better Beginning

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Husband Jim and I enjoying Chicago……                        ….But we love fishing just as much!          

My family looked at me like I was crazy when I informed them last winter that I applied to a position in a rural southern Missouri town that neither my husband nor I had never been, in the middle of a forest, where we knew no one, for a significant cut in pay, in a job that I had limited formal experience in.

“Why would you want to do that?”

The ever-present question of confused looks on people’s faces when I explained that I was committing to a year of service with AmeriCorps, where I would be giving up a formal paycheck and benefits and relying on a “living allowance” of less-than-minimum-wage pay instead.

We had been living comfortably in Champaign, Illinois, plugged-in to the University of Illinois and only a 2-hour commute from bustling Chicago. Good job, great benefits, nice apartment, surrounded by intellectual, affluent people, and we agonized over it. Clock your 40-hour-weeks in a confined, dark, dingy building, in a space shared with other people and restricted by closed walls, performing the same routine task day-in-and-out, with little room for upward movement or cross training. Go home exhausted. Repeat the next day. Spend weekends in the windy city, where it is uncomfortable to be in the open air, so you sit on the couch and watch TV travel shows instead, wishing you were there, wherever they were. This is the cycle that my husband Jim and I sluggishly found ourselves sinking into. This was not the life that either of us had envisioned, nor dreamed of. Then last year, after a bumpy ride through a situation at my workplace, we made the mutual decision to begin looking for a change in scenery.

Previous Office in Champaign





My New Office View on the Mark Twain near the Current and Eleven Point Rivers

That is when I stumbled upon the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork Program. Mt. Adams Institute receives a grant for veterans, in conjunction with AmeriCorps (alternately named the “domestic Peace Corps”), to fund internship opportunities for veterans within the U.S. Forest Service and associated natural resource agencies. These veterans are placed at various local, state, and federal land management agencies throughout the country, performing 11 months of community service at their site, gaining experience, job skills, and networking connections within the agency. The goal of the VetsWork program is found in providing career development to veterans, ultimately providing potential opportunity for federal employment with an agency in the natural resources world.   Direct access to the outdoors, ability to learn and grow in a new skill set, public service, opportunity for continued federal employment, returning to my wilder roots of growing up in the outdoors of Alaska, almost everything about this program seemed attractive to me.

And so I applied.

And that is simply how we ended up in rural Doniphan, Missouri – a town of 2,000 residents with a Sonic Drive-In on the main drag and a Dollar General on the corner. As the local courthouse is a landmark dating back to the 1890’s, Doniphan is a step back in time to an old-timey-town, filled with local business and not a Walmart in sight, the meandering Current River on one side and the rolling hills of the Mark Twain National Forest on the other. And we love it.

As I start my work here on the Mark Twain National Forest, the stark contrast between the old way of life and the new shows up in more ways than simply a new job and an attempt to have greater access to the outdoors. There is a more simplistic perspective in living here. Shops close by 7:00 on a weeknight, earlier on the weekends. Never in a hurry, and with only one stoplight in Doniphan, motorists take their time at a stop sign and teenagers can be seen out enjoying the main drag of town on a Friday night. Hunting, fishing, boating, camping, swimming all are local pastimes in an area without movie theaters or bowling alleys, shopping malls or skyscrapers, and certainly no subways.

We don’t know where the end of this internship on the Mark Twain National Forest and the connections that we make with the Doniphan community will take us, but Jim and I already know and feel that this eclectic change is for the better. This is much more of the life we were meant to live.


Skyscrapers outlining downtown Chicago, Illinois

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The 1980’s Downtown Courthouse is the tallest building in Doniphan, Missouri

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White Picket Fences outline the homes in Doniphan          Apartments above a Chicago bank


Typical mode of transport throughout Chicago     –    Common mode of transportation in Doniphan



Shops and Businesses of Downtown Chicago

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Local Doniphan Shops and Businesses

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Dollar General is the only store with the light on past 7pm in Doniphan

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Chicago Street Corner                                                                   Doniphan Street Corner


Flat cropland behind our rural Champaign apartment  IMG_20160305_084359361_HDR

  Our wooded backyard behind our Doniphan home “in town”


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