Looking Back: Green Iowa AmeriCorps Member Experiences at Trees Forever

by Gina Errico, Green Iowa AmeriCorps Member

“It’s kind of like the Peace Corps, but domestic,” is how I describe my job to many people when they ask. Although there are hundreds of opportunities to serve as an AmeriCorps member across the United States, there are still a lot of people who don’t actually know about it. An AmeriCorps member typically serves a year-long term, giving back locally or nationally through various acts of community service. Green Iowa AmeriCorps is a state-based program, where members serve across the state of Iowa, empowering local communities to make more environmental and conservation minded decisions through outreach, education and direct service work.

As a Green Iowa AmeriCorps member, I am in the Land & Water branch serving at the host site, Trees Forever. As Land & Water stewards, our job is pretty clear: to protect and revive Iowa’s ecosystems and improve water quality. This work can be done in many ways, and following the destruction from last year’s derecho, our work with Trees Forever could not be more important.

Every day is a new experience! Some days are spent doing boots on the ground work such as, invasive plant pulling, tree planting/watering, and community gardening. But mostly I work on the behind the scenes materials—promoting upcoming events through social media and flyers, creating educational resources, and finding different ways to get the community engaged and excited about the environment. I have also had the opportunity to meet and connect with some amazing people, including my fellow Green Iowa AmeriCorps members, who are all dedicated to protecting and serving the environment.

Spending the year as an environmental steward has been incredible, I have learned many skills, including: how to plant and care for a tree, tree identification, multimedia communication, and website building. These are all things that I have accomplished while also giving back to the community, and that I will continue to use in my career moving forward. As someone who moved halfway across the country to be a part of this program, I highly encourage you to consider taking a year (or two) to take the opportunity to become a part of something bigger than yourself, while giving back to the environment. As our days of service are coming to an end, my Trees Forever Green Iowa AmeriCorps teammates and I took some time to reflect on some of the amazing work we have been a part of throughout our terms and our paths moving forward: 

Gina Errico (pictured left) is finishing her Green Iowa AmeriCorps service term as the Marketing and Communications Support serving with Trees Forever. She plans to continue her career in environmental non-profit work as a researcher and science communicator. She will be attending Oklahoma State University in the fall to begin her graduate studies in Plant Biology, Ecology and Evolution. 

Through her work with Green Iowa and Trees Forever she has created and helped run an online e-commerce platform for Trees Forever to help residents plant trees on their property, as part of derecho recovery efforts. She has worked on various social media campaigns, and created an informational handbook about GIA host sites/locations for future prospective members to use. She successfully completed a Multimedia Science Communication course and started a podcast with fellow AmeriCorps member Olivia, as part of their professional development project, to help educate people on local conservation issues and how they can help mitigate them. She was recently awarded a 2021 Governor’s Volunteer Award for outstanding service.

Olivia Dove (pictured right) is finishing her Green Iowa AmeriCorps service term as the Youth Empowerment Coordinator serving with Trees Forever. Olivia has spent many days in the dirt (literally), she has not been afraid to get her hands a little dirty, her shoes a little wet, or to take on a new challenge. She plans to serve a second term with GIA at the Dubuque County Conservation Board, continuing on her career path of environmental advocacy and education.

Through her work with Green Iowa and Trees Forever, Olivia has been a true example of a GIA member “getting things done.” She has coordinated logistics and helped run the Growing Futures program, engaging the youth of Cedar Rapids through tree planting/care efforts and environmental education. Through this program and with the help of staff and some great volunteers, she has spearheaded the planting of over 400 trees within the Cedar Rapids area. She also became an official “TreeKeeper” with Trees Forever, helped coordinate residential tree adoptions, and partnered with Gina in creating “The Backyard Club”: a podcast all about nature and science on an approachable level.

Andrew Lazara (pictured left) is finishing his Green Iowa AmeriCorps service term as the Iowa Tree Planting, Volunteer Engagement, and Woodland Support Coordinator serving with Trees Forever. During his term he has grown his experience in the environmental field through hundreds of tree plantings and educational opportunities, such as the Shade Tree Short Course from ISU. He hopes to continue to develop his skills in the conservation field by continuing onto another AmeriCorps term next year.

Through his work with Green Iowa and Trees Forever, Andrew has helped kickstart and successfully support many of Trees Forever’s programs including researching and consulting on TreePlotter, an online GIS program, to help map all of the trees that have been planted through Trees Forever programs in the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids areas. He aided in coordination of the Growing Futures program, and with the help of staff and some great volunteers, has helped plant over 1000 trees in the Des Moines area. He also assisted field staff by reaching out to communities across Iowa about hosting free seedling giveaways in their community and has been a huge help in fostering and strengthening relationships with the Des Moines’ city urban forester and other city officials in their continued support of Trees Forever.

Interested in becoming a Green Iowa AmeriCorps member? Visit https://www.greeniowaamericorps.org/open-positions for more information and to apply.

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