Before finding the Hispanic Access Foundation and the fellowships they offer through the US Forest Service, I was hopelessly searching for a job like the one I do now. I knew I wanted to help people, and was interested in breaking into the environmental education field, but was faced with barriers to becoming employed by the federal government. It is hard to break into a federal agency like the Forest Service without being formerly employed by the government, and I wasn't making any headway.
However, last December, when I was offered the position of Youth Engagement Coordinator in Leadville, Colorado, I had my reservations about accepting. Leadville is a tiny town, smaller than any I've ever lived, and I didn't know anyone there. I didn't know how to be an environmental educator, and I had never spent a real winter in the snow. However, I recognized the opportunity I had been offered, and how it would help me explore a new field, expand my comfort zone, and ultimately begin to build my career. So I decided to throw caution to the wind and prepared to move to snowy Leadville, in the midst of the Rocky Mountains.
Three months into my Hispanic Access USFS Fellowship, I'm so grateful that I said yes. Here are the top 3 things I've learned about myself in those 3 months.
- Doing work that impacts others makes me happy. I've always been driven by my ideals, and I'm happy I found a job where I help people every day. Before I arrived, the USFS office in Leadville didn't have any staff that spoke fluent Spanish. This might seem normal for a tiny town in the mountains of Colorado, until you find out that Lake County has a majority Hispanic population. In creating my role, the Forest Service knew that they needed to do more to serve the segment of Leadville who feel more comfortable communicating in Spanish. Since I arrived, I've worked on creating more resources for the Spanish-speaking community to learn about the Forest Service, to understand its mission, and to recreate on public lands. Every week, I meet with Hispanic families and the organizations that serve them, welcome them to the San Isabel National Forest and help them feel comfortable visiting this wonderful natural resource. When I see the smiling faces of my new contacts in the community, and when we plan events on the forest together, I know I have paved the way for a better understanding between the community and the Forest Service, and it makes me incredibly happy and proud.
- Working outdoors energizes me. I've always gravitated to jobs that allowed me to stay active during the day, but I've never held a position that afforded me so much time outside. I have always lived in cities, but working at the Forest Service offered me the opportunity to experience a rural lifestyle. I love it more than I ever expected. The spot where I live is amazingly beautiful, and all I have to do is look out a window to steal a view of the tallest mountain in Colorado. The recreational opportunities are endless here, and far surpass those of any city. In addition, this fellowship includes plenty of fieldwork, which means that on many days, I get outside as part of my job. I've gotten to ski for a day at Ski Cooper, the ski area on the San Isabel Forest. I ran around playing games outside in Jackson, WY for an environmental educator training. And over the summer I have many field trips and conservation stewardship projects planned, in which I will be leading groups of youth and families outdoors. I'm excited to work outside and share my passion for the outdoors with others, and hope that I can help someone else discover the same passion in themselves.
- I still don't know what my career holds, and I'm okay with that. As a resource assistant, I'm exploring careers in federal government, the types of positions available in the environmental field, and the benefits and drawbacks of federal employment. Once I finish the fellowship, I will have better opportunities to find permanent employment with the Forest Service through a special document that will help me be considered for positions before other applicants because of my prior service. This will be incredibly helpful if I do choose to pursue a career in the Forest Service. I'm not sure if I will ultimately go this route. Regardless, the skills and information I am gaining through the fellowship will be invaluable for any career I ultimately choose, and I'm incredibly thankful to be in a position that is helping me grow professionally and personally.
These are the things I have learned about myself in the last three months. I know that I will learn countless more lessons over my one year fellowship-and I look forward to meeting them all head on.
By: Andrea Kurth, intern Leadville, CO