Matt Ledford in water tainted by acid mine drainage.

AmeriCorps member Matt Ledford just spent an August morning power snaking a doser, a device that adjusts the pH of water tainted by Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) to reduce its impact on Sunday Creek. It was hot, dirty work clearing the mechanism of accumulated lime. And he was ready to sign up for another year of it.

“I just wanted to keep doing this work with these people for another year,” Matt explains. “There’s so much to learn. This is the best training I could possibly receive, and I thought another year was warranted.”

As it turns out, Matt’s plan to serve another AmeriCorps term changed when he landed a full-time position with Rural Action’s Watersheds program, where he’ll be working as a water quality specialist. That means Matt will leverage his AmeriCorps training to continue helping clean local watersheds, and he also expects to spend time working on a project to create a marketable product from septage, the material removed from septic tanks when they’re pumped. If that can be turned into safe fertilizer at an economical price, it could offset homeowners’ cost of pumping their tanks regularly. Tanks that aren’t properly maintained pollute local watersheds.

Matt grew up in Cleveland, served as an aviation hydraulics mechanic in the Marine Corps, and worked at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History for 13 years before becoming an AmeriCorps member.

While he enjoyed working at the museum, he felt disconnected from the conservation work they were doing and wasn’t qualified to apply for those positions when they opened.

“I wanted to be out there taking direct action to help conserve the environment or do direct research,” he says. National Service provided him a hands-on opportunity to get that training.

Matt gained considerable experience during his first year while serving in the Monday Creek Watershed for Rural Action. “I spent time in the classroom, hands-on training sessions, and hours and hours doing it in the field, which is the best training,” he says. In addition to the AMD and septage projects, he’s done fish sampling to gauge stream health, conducted invasive plant surveys, and worked on a stream morphology project near Marietta.

Matt recommends National Service. “It’s a training, résumé, and career builder,” he says. “You need an open mind, you need to care about the area, and you have to be willing to get your hands dirty. You’re not going to get rich doing this.”

Matt Ledford and Hannah Kopp

Matt notes that Rural Action AmeriCorps Director Shannon Stewart and Manager Meredith Hamsher are “amazing“ and provide plenty of support helping members navigate their roles and other components of their year of service.

“They’re going to make sure you have all the resources you need, including info about SNAP (Ohio Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), housing, and the countless other local resources that are available. They were there for the members all the time for any issues that might come up,” Matt says.

Matt knew from the start of his first term that he’d landed in the right place at Appalachian Ohio Restore Corps.

“Everyone I met – all these people — are amazing. They’re just great people. I knew immediately I’d made the right decision.”

In his new job with Rural Action, Matt will now be welcoming AmeriCorps members to the team as they work to “get things done.”

Learn More About National Service