Many Appalachian Ohio Restore Corps (AORC) members go on to further their education, work in the field they love, or pursue other endeavors based on what they learned during their one-year term. But some decide to “re-term,” committing to their communities for a second, third, or even fourth year of National Service.
With a new term getting under way in August, we talked to three AORC members about why they decided to “re-term.” Hannah Kopp, Megan Almeida, and Kylee Nichols cite a variety of reasons for renewing, but a desire to contribute to their community while bolstering their résumés is a common theme.
Rural Action still is recruiting for 10 open AmeriCorps State/National members and 8 AmeriCorps VISTA positions. Perhaps these stories will inspire you to consider joining us as we “get things done.”
Hannah Kopp: ‘You’ll Learn Things You can Take Anywhere’
Hannah is beginning her second term serving in the Monday Creek Watershed for Rural Action and describes the decision to return as a “no-brainer.”
“I knew pretty immediately that I wanted to return,” Hannah says. “This is the field I’m interested in long term so being able to do service in it was a no-brainer. I also felt some of the projects I’m working on weren’t quite done yet and wanted another year to work on them.”
Hannah discovered Rural Action and National Service when she was at Hocking College studying Wildlife Resources Management. Rural Action’s Tim Ferrell was one of her teachers there, introducing her to Rural Action’s Watersheds Program. She spent time in other classes focused on water quality and exploring AMD treatment sites. Hannah met AmeriCorps members from Raccoon Creek and Monday Creek during conferences and talked to them about National Service.
“I realized that in AmeriCorps I could further the professional side of my life in environmental science while engaging with the community and working toward building a sustainable economy,” she says.
During Hannah’s first term, the pandemic posed a challenge.
“You definitely lose a lot not having those face-to-face interactions with people in an area where not everyone has Internet access. But we made it work. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to return. I wanted another term, but not during a pandemic. I guess we’ll see if I actually get that,” she says with a laugh.
Would she recommend National Service to others?
“National Service provides a unique opportunity,” she says. “You can get all sorts of training and expertise and you can cater it to your own personal interests while striving for the collective goals of the host site. It’s beneficial to you and the community, and you’ll learn things you can take with you anywhere after your term.”
While money can be tight at times, she makes it work. “I do house sitting on the side, and I know I’m never going to be a millionaire in the natural resources field. I’m not into this to make lots of money. I want to learn about the natural world and keep it for future generations.”
Long term, Hannah hopes to land with an agency doing field work and research, preferably something “focused on natural resources restoration and conservation, and it’s a bonus if it includes insects.” She feels particularly suited to field work.
“One of my strengths is that I’m really good at getting myself into small spaces, especially in a car full of gear and equipment,” she explains. As if to prove it, she notes that she’s about to hop into a car to go caving in Kentucky for the weekend.
Megan Almeida: AmeriCorps Provides Chance to “Reinvent Yourself”
Many people think of National Service as something for “college-age” people. But Megan Almeida says that’s not always true, especially since AmeriCorps can be an ideal opportunity for non-traditional students to acquire key skills while contributing to their community.
Megan attended one year of community college after high school and picked up an associate’s degree in Recreation and Wildlife Resources Management from Hocking College four years later. She spent 12 years at home raising her two children — now 16 and 21 — before pursuing her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Ohio University. She home-schooled her children and worked during that time, but “never in a professional workforce setting.”
“I knew National Service would help me transition to the workforce,” she explains. “It offers a support system and networking, and it allowed me to apply the skills I gained in college without being bombarded immediately with the pressures of a permanent position.”
“I notice with a lot of people who are 30-plus, there are struggles,” she says. “They go to high school, maybe college, get a job, stay there a while, and grow unhappy with the role they’re in. AmeriCorps is a safe way to take a gap year, to take a deep breath and pause to rethink yourself, to reinvent yourself. AmeriCorps completely offers that opportunity.”
Megan’s AmeriCorps experience has been so beneficial that she’s now re-terming for her fourth time, the maximum permitted. She’s spent the entire time working in Rural Action’s Zero Waste program, and during the upcoming year she will be focusing on UpCycle Ohio Community Makerspace and Thrift Store.
“We take the zero waste mission seriously at the Community Makerspace and UpCycle Ohio Thrift,” she says. “They’re another version of what zero waste can look like in a community given their focus on reuse, upcycling, and recycling.”
“During your first term, there is so much coming at you,” she says. “By the time your year is up you start to actually get it and see how you can further your work. That was my drive to go in a second year.”
It was halfway through that second term that the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the world.
“AmeriCorps quickly stepped up when we were in lockdown, and while we couldn’t go out into the field the way we previously had, we still found a way to get things done,” she says, noting that she participated in socially distanced litter pickups and invasive plant control during that time. She also gained considerable networking experience, participating in Leadership Athens County virtually.
Megan’s desire to continue projects from her second year segued into a third year, which brought an opportunity to participate in Ohio University’s Community Health Worker program, providing 100 hours of classroom time and 130 hours of direct service that leads to certification as a community health worker.
During her fourth term, Megan will finish that certification while helping to organize and teach classes at UpCycle Ohio. Teaching is one of her passions, and ideally she’d love to teach at a small college at some point. She’s not certain where she’ll land after her fourth term, but she hopes to remain in Athens, where she serves on the city’s Environment and Sustainability Commission.
While AmeriCorps greatly expanded her local network, it worked both ways. She used connections made during extensive volunteer work to further her AmeriCorps efforts. Her father, former professional athlete and Ohio Soccer Hall of Fame member Dennis Almeida, taught the importance of volunteering while she was growing up in Cleveland.
“Even before my National Service, I have been a huge proponent of volunteer work in every community I lived in,” she says.
Kylee Nichols: Three Times a Charm for U. of Michigan Grad Student
For the first time in three years, Kylee Nichols isn’t preparing for an AmeriCorps term. She’s in Ann Arbor, where she’s getting ready to work on a master’s degree in environmental policy and planning at the University of Michigan.
Kylee grew up in Morgan County, where as a teen she attended a 4H camp where Rural Action’s Joe Brehm was an instructor. After graduating from Ohio University, she became one of the people running those watershed camps as an Appalachian Ohio Restore Corps member. After her first term, she re-termed with AmeriCorps twice, serving in Monday Creek Watershed the entire time.
Kylee’s entry into National Service was “really random,” she says. Someone from Community Food Initiatives spoke to her class at OU, prompting her to apply for AmeriCorps openings when she graduated. She ended up landing with Rural Action. “I was only going to do one term, but I really liked it and decided to do this a little longer.” A little longer turned out to be two more years.
“I didn’t want to go straight to grad school,” Kylee says. “I’m a first generation college student and didn’t have guidance on what to do. I learned about the program at Michigan through one of my professors.”
She was accepted at Michigan two years ago but decided to delay entry, partially because of the COVID-19 pandemic and partially because she enjoyed serving in the Watershed program so much.
Kylee says AmeriCorps helped her learn how to better manage her time — a skill she expects to come in handy during grad school — and gave her the confidence she needed to run events and manage people. “I got better about telling people what needed to be done and when, and believing that what I was organizing was going to turn out well,” she says.
When asked what advice she’d give prospective AmeriCorps members, she stressed that it doesn’t have to be a “gap” year. “It can be, but you can also do this to gain skills and become a better professional and jump right into a job. It’s also a really good transition for young people coming out of undergrad. It’s a little more fun than jumping into a job. You have so many opportunities for training, résumé building, and conferences. I went to every training we had and every conference. My résumé got better, and it was fun.”
After grad school, Kylee hopes to do policy work, specializing in climate change. “I definitely hope to move back to Athens if I can get a job there,” she says. “It’s good to branch out for a little bit, but I still consider Athens home.”