Manny DeAquino, Stewardship and Outreach Assistant; American River Conservancy
I pulled up to the nature center at the Marshall Gold Discovery Park and just took it in for a minute. Our family had spent hours in and around the American River Conservancy’s nature center over the years. When our daughter was less
than one-year old, my wife, Martha, worked in ARC’s environmental education program. Martha presented the “First Scientist” story to youngsters at the nature center. At a point during the story I would bring our baby girl in, swaddled so the kids couldn’t tell there was a baby under the cover. After asking the kids who they thought the first scientist was, she would reveal a baby from under the covers! Now, almost 16 years later, here I was coming to serve at ARC for 2012 as an AmeriCorps member.
After our SNAP training in Oakhurst, I was enthused knowing that 27 incredible members were serving up and down the Sierra. What an honor to be associated with this motivated cadre of bright people. One of the qualities of SNAP members is their indelible desire to provide a valuable service to the Sierra communities and the watersheds that run through them.
This mark of service carried to an AmeriCorps service day in honor of Cesar Chavez Day. I chose to volunteer at the Sacramento Food Bank. This would be my first association with the food bank. Volunteering for the Sacramento Food Bank placed the meaning of service front and center and highlighted what it means to be in AmeriCorps. Giving time and effort alongside others for a cause you believe in is a terrific experience. It makes you feel good and provides a benefit to our community.
Working alongside people I had never met at the food bank was a rewarding experience. Feverishly packing bags with food before people began to arrive to receive the donations, laughing along with strangers, receiving smiles from people grateful to have food for a few days; all these snapshots left me grateful for being there. It made me realize that one of AmeriCorps’ strengths is putting people in a situation where they are encouraged to reach out to their communities and participate.
Satisfaction comes in all sorts of experiences. Volunteers have regularly been coming to help at a restoration project at a former ranch north of Placerville. It’s great to see people of all ages giving of their time to improve our community. Big Brothers/Big Sisters have joined us a number of times. Some of the “littles” are pretty young and spend most of the time just enjoying the outdoors. Others are a bit older and do a lot of work weeding and doing general clean up.
One particular Saturday in March it seemed that it couldn’t get much better than when a group of volunteers and I headed into a forest thicket, with weed wrenches in hand, about to wage battle with Scotch broom. Lovely though it may appear when in bloom, it’s a nasty invasive that chokes the forest. As our team showed ever improving skill with the shiny orange tools, the stack of tall broom plants grew higher and higher. Now if we only had a vehicle to move it up the 600’ elevation to the top of the Red Shack Trail! There will be another day.
The activities at ARC are varied and fun. Third through sixth grade students descended on the Marshall Gold Discovery Park for two days in March to take part in Nature Bowl. Hosted by the American River Conservancy and its Nature Center, the annual event is organized by the Cal. Dept. Fish and Game. The first day was wet and cold. Easy Ups provided some cover for the various stations set up outside. Invariably, the volunteers working at each station where the students would participate had to go out into the rain. Their tallying sheets quickly became wet and it was difficult to read their writing on the sheets which began to stick together. Did the volunteers and students throw up their hands and say, “I can’t do this!?” Nope, they showed contagious enthusiasm and carried on with smiles and laughs. Yet another feeling of privilege and honor to be associated with wonderful people serving their communities.
This year will undoubtedly be filled with many more wonderful experiences. I’m glad to be serving with AmeriCorps and SNAP in the Sierra Nevada!