Boots on the ground: Members’ service impact spans from Washington to Louisiana

On Oct. 5, nearly 300 AmeriCorps members donned masks along with bright yellow hard hats to kick off a new term in the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC).

Our 51 five-member field crews and 15 Individual Placement members are now busy building trails, restoring critical habitat, collecting environmental data, and more. AmeriCorps members and staff incorporate COVID-19 safety procedures into all activities to keep each other and local communities safe amidst the ongoing pandemic.

This fall, service opportunities have even extended to as far away as Louisiana through a virtual disaster response assignment. 

Five people stand in a forest wearing masks and hard hats, and some are holding hand tools.

AmeriCorps members remove invasive species during their first week. Photo by Colleen Slater.

Supporting Louisiana disaster response efforts — from home

WCC is providing remote support as an AmeriCorps Disaster Response Incident Command Team, supporting on-the-ground disaster response efforts in Louisiana after Hurricane Laura made landfall in August.

Starting in mid-October, supervisors and AmeriCorps members have been coordinating operations, logistics, planning, and communications for nearly 50 AmeriCorps members helping affected communities in Louisiana.

A woman sits by a computer and a whiteboard giving a thumbs up.

AmeriCorps member Presley Barbo was one of three from WCC supporting the first wave of virtual deployment support. Photo contributed by Presley Barbo.

AmeriCorps members from Montana Conservation Corps, Utah Conservation Corps, AmeriCorps NCCC, and Louisiana Conservation Corps are conducting debris removal, tarping roofs, mucking and gutting homes, and providing disaster relief center assistance for communities impacted by Hurricane Laura. WCC’s AmeriCorps members support activities like these when serving on out-of-state deployments, so operating remotely is a new experience.

WCC supervisor Courtney Johnson and AmeriCorps members Erica Pan and Presley Barbo spent 10-hour days, six days a week on their computers here in Washington. They engaged in planning field operations, communicating with people in multiple states, completing daily and weekly reports, identifying housing and testing locations, securing tools and personal protective equipment, and more.

A woman stands in an indoor office setting, wearing a dark blue sweatshirt.

AmeriCorps member Erica Pan added that coffee was a huge help during long days on a computer. Photo contributed by Erica Pan.

Courtney reflected that this unique deployment taught her that team connection can happen in many ways. 

“My Incident Command Team got creative with how to communicate easily with each other, and how to connect with the teams on the ground in Louisiana,” Courtney said. “Technology has allowed us so many opportunities to utilize video calls, visual maps, and spreadsheets. I am so grateful that our Incident Command Team was able to truly make an impact on this mission assignment, despite serving from across the country.” 

In early November, Courtney, Presley, and Erica cross-trained the next team of three from WCC: Supervisor Zack Gifford, and AmeriCorps members Tori Chaplinski and Emily Atkins. They will continue leading virtual support through early December.

“I have learned and improved upon my abilities to resolve conflict and troubleshoot issues as they arise,” Presley shared. “I am humbled to have assisted in the recovery of communities impacted by Hurricane Laura.”

Restoration and trail projects continue in Washington

While these small and mighty teams support disaster response virtually, our 51 field crews are also supporting environmental stewardship activities across Washington. Our AmeriCorps members spent their first weeks of service helping to improve habitat and support outdoor recreation.

Eleven people wearing masks and hard hats gather in a clearing on a forested slope, overlooking a body of water

Ten AmeriCorps members gather for a photo on San Juan Island during their first month of service. Photo contributed by Rob Crawford and Vanessa Young.

Our Vancouver-based field crew installed signs at Siouxon Falls in Gifford Pinchot National Forest to improve public access and safety. Members removed 7,000 pounds of toxic creosote-treated wood and marine debris from Whidbey Island in a single week, supporting shoreline restoration and creating healthier habitat for forage fish. Two crews teamed up for a week in the San Juan Islands, learning about forest health and removing invasive species.

Through planting native trees and shrubs and removing invasive species, our AmeriCorps members have already improved 160 acres of public or tribal land in their first month of service.

Supporting safety

Safety has always been our program priority, and COVID-19 requires additional safety procedures to keep each other safe and well. Our field crews conduct weekly safety meetings or when starting a new project. This offers regular opportunities to ask questions, review procedures, and share resources around mental and emotional health.

Other safety measures include conducting daily health screenings, using portable field handwashing stations, wearing masks, disinfecting and sanitizing tools, and ensuring physical distancing at all times.

As COVID-19 cases rise exponentially across the state this month, we continue to follow guidance from the Governor’s Office and state Department of Health as we prioritize safety for our AmeriCorps members, staff, and the communities we serve.

Learn more about Ecology’s response to COVID-19 on our website.

Five people crouch on the side of a trail, wearing masks and hard hats.

Our AmeriCorps members build trails and support habitat restoration projects, in addition to serving on disaster response deployments if needed. Photo by Greg Dunbar.

Join WCC

Do you love being outdoors and supporting local communities? Do you know someone looking for hands-on environmental field experience? We will open recruitment in January for six-month AmeriCorps member positions on field crews statewide! Learn more and apply on our website.