Guest post by John Rienzo, AmeriCorps NCCC team member
AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) team River 7, comprised of individuals once scattered throughout the country, has had the privilege of working with the Virginia Nature Conservancy program for our third round project. After a strenuous 2 day journey of driving from Vicksburg, Mississippi, River 7 safely arrived upon the Eastern Shore of Virginia on January 20th. Since our first day of working alongside various branches within the Virginia Nature Conservancy, every member of River 7 has had their own unique experience with park rangers from Kiptopeke State Park and First Landing State Park. Allow me to introduce you to my team and share some of these experiences.
Ashlyn Thomas resides from Dallas, Texas and has proven herself mentally and physically throughout the year despite being the youngest member on the team at 19 years young. A favorite memory of Ashlyn’s from working in Kiptopeke was enjoying being immersed in nature and learning about the importance of trail clearing and maintenance. While working in Kiptopeke State Park Ashlyn experienced her first snowfall ever! In First Landing, Ashlyn enjoyed using power tools for outside purposes and learned to appreciate the work that goes into building boardwalks.
Cain Silvey, born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska is a true renaissance man with the ability to take down any challenge that is presented to him. Cain had the following to add about his time spent working with the Virginia State Park system, “Working with the Virginia State Parks was a great experience. I really enjoyed living on the Eastern Shore at Kiptopeke State Park, what a beautiful area! The staff at Kiptopeke were awesome and I had a lot of fun working with Chris doing trail maintenance and rebuilding picnic tables. Our team also spent a week across the bay working at First Landing State Park working with John and RJ to restore an old boardwalk that looked out over a cypress swamp. The snow and cold weather made things a little challenging, but we really worked hard and ended up with a brand new boardwalk that will allow visitors to the park a chance to see the swamp up close and personal. I had a really good time here in Virginia and I wish we could have stayed longer, but hopefully the Virginia State Parks will be able to continue hosting AmeriCorps teams to help them continue the great work that they do. Thanks to everyone we worked with during our time here, and keep up the good work!”
Jacquie King grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland and has brought great enthusiasm to the team along with her leadership skills and mind boggling mathematic abilities. Jacquie had this to say about her time spent in Kiptopeke State Park, “For two days, Kari and I got to work with Jerry in the workshop making sign posts, which was a lot of fun. On those rainy days, there was nothing better than working indoors, sawing 4x4s and drilling with paddle-bits and drill punches. Jerry was so much fun to work with and we soon found that all three of us enjoy talking about eating food, smelling food, cooking food…just about anything about food. The only problem was that we would end up being starving by 10 in the morning! Jerry was a lot of fun to work with and I appreciate those two days I got to spend in the workshop with him and Kari.
One particular memory that stood out during my time in First Landing: I am a big Math nerd, I can’t deny it. So when we were working on the lookout point on the deck and angles had to be found, I jumped at the chance to put my “Mathemagic” to work! I had so much fun finding the angles for the joints in the handrails, and was extremely proud of how the lookout point turned out. I only wish we could have finished it up for Ranger Jerry!”
Kari Evely, grew up in Wilmore, Kentucky and is our eldest member of River 7. Kari has brought patience, passion, pride, and a can do attitude to the team that is seldom seen. Kari had this to say about her experience with the Nature Conservancy, “The dilapidated boardwalk, sagging in all the wrong places, was a sight difficult to behold as I contemplated taking it apart and putting it back together again. That it was a worthwhile project was never a question in my mind, but rather, the question I asked myself was, Can three girls do this? Where do we even begin? 5 hours later, my doubts seemed silly. In a single day, we had disassembled and reassembled the entire dangerous stretch of boardwalk leading through swampland.”
First Landing State Park presented a new challenge for Kari where fears were faced and overcome, Kari had this to say:
Malcolm LeGloahec comes from the great state of Maine. Malcolm or “Mac” as we call him can be spotted wearing a smile stretching ear to ear with a glass half full mindset, finding pleasure in his work regardless of the task at hand. Mac had the following experience to share on his time in Virginia:
Taylor DeLegge is from Charleston, South Carolina and is fresh out of high school. Making the most of his first experience away from home Taylor has shown great determination, stamina, and a metabolism that burns like a furnace. At First Landing Taylor really enjoyed restoring an old outlook. Taking down old boards that were rotting and unsafe and replacing those with new fresh pressure treated wood gave Taylor the gratification he’s been looking for in a construction project. Taylor’s favorite memory working at Kiptopeke was clearing a trail and dragging pine trees into the woods. With a Coke in one hand, and Hershey’s bar in the other, there is nothing that can prevent this eager worker from getting the job done.
Ruth Chaney grew up in McHenry, Illinois just outside Chicago. Ruth is the current Assistant Team Lead for River 7 which she has achieved by bringing various beneficial qualities to our team such as strong work ethic, purposefulness, and an unrelenting will to give up. Ruth’s favorite Kiptopeke Memory was “Spending two days cutting down pine trees with the brush cutter and then getting to go back during our time off and enjoy the path we cleared. While at First Landing a favorite memory included working with our whole team and Ranger John to nearly finish refurbishing the boardwalk and overlook in just three days. If only we didn’t have that snow day, we could have finished the whole thing!”
Sarah Pearl is from the green state of Vermont, residing from the town of St. Albans. As one of the elder members Sarah brings maturity, rationality, and creativity to the team on a daily basis. Sarah had this to say about her experience in Virginia. “My favorite memory working with Kiptopeke State Park was clearing the pine trees from the trail. This was the first project that we got to work outside, and really enjoy nature, and this was especially enjoyable because it was a beautiful sunny day. My favorite memory from First Landing was returning from a trip home to see all the work my team had completed. When I left the boardwalk was torn up, but when I returned the boardwalk was almost complete. It was amazing to see all the hard work they had completed in the two days I was gone.”
Christopher Money or “C-Money” grew up in North Andover, Massachusetts and is our fearless team leader. With a year of AmeriCorps experience under his belt, C-Money has led our team through thick and thin, ensuring our team provides the community with as much as we can possibly give. C-Money stated the following on his time in Virginia, “Our time with the Virginia State Park service has been wonderful. Living and working amongst the beautiful properties they protect and maintain has been a fantastic experience. I am very thankful our team was given the opportunity to help make these incredible natural areas all the more accessible for the public to enjoy. I myself grew up in Virginia and it was here that I first experienced the beauty and majesty of the natural world. I hope that our team’s work here will allow others to do the same.”
My name is John Rienzo, I grew up in Stony Brook, New York where I spent the majority of my life before joining AmeriCorps. My time working with the Virginia Nature Conservancy has been a true delight. Although cold weather would sneak up on us every so often, working outside in the fresh air was a nice change of pace that I truly appreciated. Working with Park Ranger Chris and Dan in Kiptopeke made working in the bitterest conditions enjoyable, this is no easy feat. Park Manager Sam treated us with upmost hospitality and ensured a comfortable stay for us, as if we were paying vacationers! Regardless of where we worked, it was a luxury to have such knowledgeable staff within reach. Between the Park Rangers, Nature Conservancy staff, and local hardworking volunteers it is no surprise Virginia State Parks are ranked #1 in the country.