Creating the Next Generation of Appalachian Leaders
“Wow! That’s a great idea.”
It’s a phrase Rural Action Environmental Education Director Joe Brehm utters often. In this instance, he was responding to a co-worker’s off-hand remark that a senior at Trimble High School should apply for an open AmeriCorps position with his team.
“I don’t even know what that is,” Alison McCoy recalls thinking as Joe pushed forward. But she’s known Joe since she first met him during a summer camp when she was 8 or 9 so she knew it must be a good thing, especially if it meant she got to work with Rural Action.
“I can get the paperwork for you,” Joe said. And Alison was on her way to serving a year-long National Service term. While she’s doing that, she’s finishing her senior year working remotely and also taking college classes at Hocking College.
Alison’s relationship with Rural Action is an example of how our Environmental Education program strives to educate the youth (and adults) of Appalachian Ohio. They learn to understand why it matters when creeks flow orange with acid mine drainage. They also get a chance to explore potential career opportunities through National Service and the high school internship program we collaborate on with Building Bridges to Careers.
It also shows how our programs work together to enhance their impact. Our Leadership and Service program spent 2021 preparing for a major expansion, with plans to increase AmeriCorps and VISTA positions in the Appalachian Ohio Restore Corps from 41 members to 80. More National Service members will be joining Alison to help us get things done throughout the region, from countering climate change to cleaning streams to distributing fresh local produce in food deserts.
For Alison, who earned Rural Action’s Youth In Action Sustainability Award in 2021 and has served internships with Burr Oak Nature Center and Community Food Initiatives’ Veggie Van, it all came full circle when she returned to Trimble to talk to students in the talented and gifted class.
“The same teacher still teaches it, and I was in the first group that went from fifth grade up through high school in that group,” Alison says. “She asked me to share my experiences so her students would know what is possible for them.“
“I’m getting a stipend from AmeriCorps to do the things that I was volunteering to do as a kid,” Alison says. “While I’m in high school, living at home in a family who doesn’t have a lot of money in the first place, I’m able to earn money and start saving for things that are important for me.”
“I’ve been told my whole life I’d be a good teacher. This gives me a chance to interact with students, adults and people my own age who I’ve been able to teach.”
“Rural Action feels almost like home,” Alison says. “Everything feels so comfortable. It’s the safest place I’ve been in a way. It’s done a lot for me outside the work itself. It’s gotten me out of my house and helped me see the world more.”