Alison McCoy, standing, does a demonstration for students during one of her education programs.

Alison McCoy, standing, does a demonstration for students during one of her environmental education programs.

By Alison McCoy, Environmental Education AmeriCorps

Within the past month, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to become one of Rural Action’s youngest AmeriCorps members. I began service almost immediately after completing the stack of paperwork I had been given. I was slightly overwhelmed and confused for the first couple of days; by the third day, I began to plan environmental education programs of my own. I was given the chance to help with the programs designed by others, and I did, but there was something special about designing and running my own.

For my second program, I went to the Trimble Middle-Elementary School to talk to the students of Talented And Gifted (TAG) teacher, Mrs. Ives. Her students have been working on a project called Christmas Around The World, an annual project that I was a part of when I was in the 5th grade. For this project, students chose a country and put together a detailed presentation to explain how Christmas is celebrated in their country. Mrs. Ives asked me if I’d like to come talk to her class about the four months I spent studying abroad in Italy. She believed that this would not only help prepare her students to present about their countries but also show them the seemingly limitless possibilities at their fingertips. After telling her students about my experiences, many hands rose.

“Did you learn Italian?”

“Tell me more about the culture.”

“Was the food good?”

After answering question after question, I had a few questions of my own. I asked them, “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?”

“I would go to France to learn their language and see the Eiffel tower!”

“I would go to Ireland! That’s where my ancestors are from!”

“I would go to Hawaii! The ocean is beautiful there!”

I let them write their answers on pieces of paper before taping them up on the wall under the sign that said, “Where I would go…” I was excited to hear all of their answers, but I was more excited to ask my next question. I paused. “What’s stopping you?” Some of their arms shot up in an instant, others just stared.

“I don’t have enough money!”

“My parents would never let me!”

“I have pets at home!”

I told them a bit more about my experience. My family has never had an excessive amount of money. Countless friends, family members, and community members helped me raise the money needed to go. Rural Action was a large part of this. They created a fundraising page to raise just enough for the application fee, $1,000, and in just one weekend an amount over $2,000 was raised! Many people in my life didn’t want me to go, especially at such a chaotic time, but in the end I was able to go. I assured them that their pets would be especially proud. Mrs. Ives made a second sign and I taped the second set of answers under “Obstacles…” In just 5 minutes, the bell would ring, but I had one final question. “If you were given the chance to study abroad, would you?” Nine out of 10 of her students said they would like to.

Life will do anything but follow your plan. For a while, I challenged this idea. I fought it. Recently, however, I’ve started to believe that life’s plan for you is much better, much greater. I dreamed of studying abroad for a long time, but I never imagined it would become a reality. I never imagined that I would share my experiences and inspire others. I never imagined that so many people would come together to push me further and change my life. My friends, family members, community members, and now people from around the world push me to become better every day while loving and encouraging every ounce of who I currently am. These people have intensified my growth. These people are my fertilizer. I’m so grateful to have gotten the opportunity to be the fertilizer. Abraham Maslow said, “One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” I can’t wait to see the world continue to grow. I can’t wait to see what Mrs. Ives’ students do next. 🙂

(Alison McCoy is a Trimble resident and high school senior who is serving as an AmeriCorps member in Rural Action’s Environmental Education program.)