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KEEN Connects: Learning to give back

Six years ago, I found my calling. After muddling through my final year of college and avoiding judgement of my family that went along with it, I was able to graduate with a degree in biology, and not a clue of how to use it. Having been on a pre-med trajectory for the previous four years I was surprised to learn I had little to no interest in being a physician, a nurse, a dentist, an ophthalmologist, or even a veterinarian. I was not going into medicine. Shoot. Oh well. Instead of waiting for my first student loan statement and the unenviable feeling of regret I was fully anticipating for future me, I started looking for a job.

At first, anything would do. Retail, restaurant, insurance. It didn’t matter. I needed to be busy and I needed money. Luckily, I didn’t get a job at first and eventually learned of a subsidized, volunteer-based occupational training program that required minimal experience and awarded participants financial aid in exchange for time served in the program. I was sold. I had no idea what I had signed up for or the impact it would have on my life.

Starting to work for the Washington Conservation Corps was and still is the best decision I have ever made. A door had been opened into an unfamiliar world. Each project provided a new experience and taught a new skill. Daily treks to high peaks to provide much needed maintenance on the Oyster Dome trail outside of Bellingham, rafting down the Skagit River in search of ecologically devastating invasive plants, thinning mountain slopes near Sequim to emulate an increasingly restricted fire regime to provide crucial habitat for the endangered Taylor’s Checkered Spotted Butterfly, and, in times of tragedy, travel across the country to support victims of natural disasters. As an AmeriCorps volunteer, I was at home, working diligently to preserve the beautiful and pristine habitat I worked in while simultaneously providing opportunities for others to share in my experiences. It was this opportunity to give back to natural areas through action that solidified my passion for conservation.

After graduating from the Washington Conservation Corps, I wasn’t lost. I knew exactly where I was going. The spring of 2016 marked the start of my next big thing. I was offered a job in Ellensburg working in habitat restoration. This new role allowed me the opportunity to teach people about being environmental stewards and to organize events allowing others to give back to the areas they hold in such high regard. My newest goal has been to learn about and engage with members of Kittitas County and provide meaningful experiences that promote sustainable actions, opportunities to learn, and allows our citizens to give back to the community they love.

Many of us enjoy hiking or biking around the Teanaway Community Forest. Most love spending time in the Yakima River Canyon, floating down the river, watching Eagles nest and soar majestically in the search of its next fishy snack. As our native wildflowers start to bloom and spring encapsulates our minds and draws us out from under our dusty wintery desks, it is important to reflect on what it is that calls to us this time of year and, perhaps more importantly, what is being done to allow us and the future us to experience this bliss in perpetuity. There are countless ways to give back to those aspects we enjoy so much. Monetary donations help any program and are typically the quickest way to contribute. Advocating for a cause takes resolve and presently tends to cause discourse despite there usually being some common ground. Volunteering our time provides insight into project goals and timelines and delivers a sense of ownership in the community.

Collectively, each of our small actions make a difference. Every dollar donated. Every plant planted. Every foot of trail maintenance completed. Every noxious weed identified. Every opportunity to engage with someone new and express the magnificence and significance our public lands and natural areas have on our region’s ecology and economy sheds light on our values. Each small step we take to give back and contribute to the things we cherish is impactful and reveals what our community holds dear. Volunteerism can be one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have. It changed my life. It might change yours too.

The Kittitas Environmental Education Network will be organizing and supporting several spring events in 2019. All these events will need volunteer support in order to succeed. Please look at our upcoming schedule and see if you might be interested in participating:

* April 20— Yakima River Clean Up

* May 11 — Get Intimate with the Shrub Steppe

* May 11 — KEEN’s Native Plant Sale

If you would like any information on how to get involved email Landon Shaffer:

KEEN Connects is a monthly column produced by the Kittitas Environmental Education Network (KEEN) board members and volunteers.

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