When the Clouds Part

It had rained hard the night before and the mud in the wide parking area squelched under my tires as I pulled in to the Waldo-Takilma Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). A few white government vehicles, a trailer, and an SUV were already there and unpacking their supplies for the day of dirty work ahead of us.

I had never visited this ACEC before, despite having lived and worked in the Illinois Valley of Southern Oregon for almost three months. It seemed ridiculous that I had initiated, coordinated, and was about to execute this volunteer day without ever having set foot in Waldo-Takilma ACEC until now—a late November morning under dense clouds and a thin sheet of mist. I took a deep breath, fervently hoped that this, my first real event during my RARE AmeriCorps position, wouldn’t be a total bust. Then I hopped out of my car and got to work.

The team of botanists and field technicians from the Bureau of Land Management were hefting gnarly looking equipment to three of the nine work sites we would be planting in. One of their white trucks was filled to the brim with over 3,000 plants. All native species, and all for this huge, neglected, magnificent preservation. And by 9:45AM, the community began to arrive.

The sun finished burning through the clouds after the third, fourth, fifth cars pulled into the lot. Everyone was ready for the rain and in high spirits, decked out in waterproof coats, pants, and many a wide-brimmed hat. The group of nearly 30 volunteers huddled up for brief introductions and a safety check-in, and then we were off, piling into the white truck beds and holding on for dear life as the BLM team maneuvered through gutted trails and rain-sliced potholes.

The mist retreated higher into the surrounding Siskiyou Mountains as our team tackled each swath of damaged land, digging a hole for every plant. The rain had worked up the heaviest, stickiest, meanest mud I have ever trudged through in my life, but I was surrounded by some of the most determined folks I could imagine. After four hours of work, we wearily made our way back to the entrance, where we were met by a bus load of 25 bright-eyed volunteers—local school kids from the science club. For the rest of the day, the Waldo-Takilma ACEC was filled with the sounds of shrill satisfaction as mud was flung and another couple hundred plants made it into the ground.

The mist was starting to drag its way back down the darkening mountains when the bus pulled away. I stood in the lot, flabbergasted, listening to the ecologists’ upbeat banter about Douglas firs and trying to wrap my head around the day. Around the success of this event, which would bring another dozen Illinois Valley residents into the fold of our volunteer program.

I was overwhelmed by the pride I felt for my community. Though this was not a revolutionary day, and building long term health for the watershed was months and years away, I had witnessed the power of this place. The people showed up for what they care about: their home, their neighbors, and their future. And I knew I could count on them to keep showing up.

When I began RARE, I feared that the obstacles already burdening rural communities would mean that people would have no time or interest in volunteering. However, every day in the Illinois Valley has shown me that nothing could be further from the truth, and that this rural community will not be defined by its issues. Though just a stepping stone, the work that was done in the ACEC proved to me that this community is already taking control of their future. I look forward in hope to the rest of my time here, knowing that the programs I help guide into place will be backed by the strength of the Illinois Valley’s residents long after I leave.

About the author: Originally from Massachusetts, Sienna Fitzpatrick recently graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a BA in Environmental Policy. While living in Chicago, she worked and learned alongside diverse communities which shaped her interest in public service with an emphasis on building capacity and supporting sustainability.  As the Volunteer Coordinator for Illinois Valley Soil and Water Conversation District, Sienna works in the office and the outdoors, gaining valuable experience in conservation and community engagement.

Does community development work interest you? Are you looking for a life changing experience in rural Oregon? Learn more about serving with the RARE AmeriCorps Program via our website: https://rare.uoregon.edu/application-process/member-application-process 

That program is doing something great. You’re a RARE, aren’t you?

During a county-wide economic development meeting in Roseburg with city leaders from all across Douglas County, the other attendees along with myself were prompted to introduce ourselves and the towns we were representing. As someone who barely heard of AmeriCorps before I applied for the RARE Program, I tend to explain my position in vague blanket terms to avoid having to dive into micro clarifications of what I do. During this roundtable, I highlighted the numerous ways my community had grown since it first became a RARE community four years earlier and briefly mentioned that my position is an AmeriCorps position.

Immediately following the roundtable, I was approached by the City Manager of a different Douglas County city attending the meeting.

“That program is doing something great. You’re a RARE, aren’t you?”

With an annual cohort of about 30 members and each placement spread far and wide across the almost 100,000 square miles that make up the state of Oregon, it’s easy to come to the misguided conclusion that the RARE Program is perhaps not widely known. However, making an impact in over 100 communities over the course of 25 years tends to help spread the word, and being amongst the cohort during the 25th year has disproved my own misguided conclusion of the public’s awareness of the RARE Program both within my community as well as representing in other parts of the state.

Serving with the Reedsport Main Street Program following four consecutive RARE predecessors is turning out to be challenging in unexpected but rewarding ways. From what local community members tell me and from what I’ve found within RMSP’s past records, I am vastly different from the previous Reedsport RARE participants. However, that’s why Reesdport’s Main Street has been able to progress the way it has. That’s the beauty of this entire program. So many individuals with different skills and different talents go out and do what they do best, then the people after them with even more diverse backgrounds go out to communities both new and seasoned with RARE to serve perhaps in the same position, but it ends up growing in a completely different yet necessary capacity.

After that meeting in Roseburg and hearing from an unexpected stranger how important the RARE Program is in rural Oregon, now when people ask me about what I do I lead with RARE and AmeriCorps because this program is doing something great in the state of Oregon.

A bit about the author, Emily Bradley:

  • Currently serving as Main Street Coordinator for the Reedsport Main Street Program.
  • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies and Public Relations, University of Alabama, Spring 2018
  • People may be surprised… “when they learn that I’ve travelled as much as I have for someone my age. I’ve been to 26 countries on four continents”

Does community development work interest you? Are you looking for a life changing experience in rural Oregon? Learn more about serving with the RARE AmeriCorps Program via our website: https://rare.uoregon.edu/application-process/member-application-process