Future Outdoor Leaders Grow Using AmeriCorps Awards

Posted by: Molly Herber on 12/11/15 11:28 AM

WFR Class Outside Opal Creek An outdoor class during the WFR course. Photo courtesy of Opal Creek.

A dedicated crew of young adult AmeriCorps volunteers serving with Heart of Oregon Corps in Bend, Oregon spent the last six months building trails, restoring habitat, and reducing fire fuels on public land in Central Oregon. Along the way, they developed valuable leadership and practical skills to help them pursue careers in conservation and stewardship. Many of the youth sought opportunities to broaden their skill set as their terms of service drew to a close.

The crew spent a lot of time in the backcountry during their term, completing conservation work in beautiful but extremely isolated areas. After witnessing two medical evacuations, one a severe cut and the other an asthma attack, several of the crew members were interested in increasing their knowledge and ability to respond to these types of situations.

Heart of Oregon Corps AmeriCorps’ Program Director, Allan Capp, has been a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) for over a decade, and suggested collaborating with NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI) to figure out how the youth could also gain this certification.

Crew members were able to use their individual $2,865 AmeriCorps education awards to enroll in NOLS’ WFR course, and additionally earn a college credit through a partnership with Western State Colorado University.

Practicing Skills in a Scenario Practicing their skills in a scenario. Photo courtesy of Opal Creek.

Reflecting on the opportunities made available by his own WFR certification, Capp noted, “Personally and in the industries I’ve worked in [it’s] been a really important qualification. At Heart of Oregon Corps we look at ways to empower our young people and expose them to opportunities that will help them gain the skills and knowledge to be successful in the industries they’re interested in.”

Providing opportunities to help their crewmembers become more employable is a primary goal for Heart of Oregon Corps. The program started by focusing on at-risk youth, and today many of those serving in the program are considered “opportunity youth,” those who have been disengaged from work or school for six months or more. With the WFR certification to complement their term of service with AmeriCorps, crew members were able to further position themselves to enter the outdoor industry well-prepared.

The new WFR graduates affirmed that they feel competent and prepared after the ten-day course at Opal Creek, which has been a sponsor for WMI courses since 2005. AmeriCorps and course alumni Jacob Schuman shared, “My time at Opal Creek was very fulfilling. I came into it afraid to even think about what I would do in a wilderness emergency, but came out confident that if the need ever arises I will be ready to use my training and do the best I can. I couldn't have asked for a better teaching environment and would definitely recommend this NOLS course to anyone.”

Heart of Oregon and NOLS are excited to continue to work together and see the various ways the certification will help these young people begin their careers. Thinking about the crewmembers’ futures, Capp said, “We would love for them to be locally hired into a forest service or BLM position with the districts we work with … We want to see them become project leads or seasonal staff, firefighters or guides … Bend is a mecca for outdoor recreation and we would love to see our youth go in any of those directions in the outdoor industry.”

And we’re sure they will!

Practicing the Patient Assessment Practicing the patient assessment. Photo courtesy of Opal Creek.


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Molly is a NOLS instructor and writer. She loves the smell of her backpack and does her best writing before 7:00 am. When she's not scouting the next post for the NOLS Blog, she's running and climbing on rocks in Wyoming.