Coastal Crew helps our at the San Antonio Missions NHP

This week Gold Crew spent a second week in San Antonio with the National Parks Service, helping complete a myriad of projects for the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park.

After arriving in San Antonio Monday morning, we set to work clearing overgrown acequias and picking up trash around the Mission Espada. (Acequias are ditches built by the mission founders to bring water to their crops. It’s pronounced ah-sek-ee-ahs).

Tuesday morning we got to work with archaeologists!  The San Antonio Missions have managed to preserve several kilns the Spanish monks used to make lime, which was then used to build the missions. These kilns are approximately 300 years old, and every year the site archaeologist leads a team to carefully clear any vegetation which might encroach on or erode these features. Our team removed armfuls of ragweed and other brush under their supervision, making sure not to step on the kiln walls.

That afternoon we headed to Rancho de las Cabras, a property outside Floresville where we started building a trail two weeks ago, to restore some prairie.

Wednesday our field coordinator, Sarah, came out to Rancho de las Cabras to help us finish the work on our trail: putting in swales, reworking water bars, evening out some of the steeper sections of trail, and widening sections that were just a little too narrow. It was a hot day, and we had to take frequent water breaks, but with Sarah’s help, we were able to make sure the trail would be ready for an event the NPS is having in early June. That night the crew celebrated the completed trail with some cold Gatorade, s’mores, and a campfire after dinner!

Thursday we returned to Rancho de las Cabras and split into teams to clear invasive species from an area our sponsor is restoring to native prairie. My group grabbed our backpack sprayers and attacked a long stretch of guinea grass and Johnson grass, two invasive non-natives that spread quickly. Another group cleared and herbicided mesquite trees and other brush that, while being native species, don’t belong in a prairie.

Friday we packed our things and headed to Mission San Juan to help clear invasive species out of their pollinator garden. We targeted ragweed (a native “nuisance” species), Queen Anne’s lace (a non-native invasive), and bastard cabbage (another non-native invasive). At lunch time, we headed home to Houston to de-rig and do our weekly chores, finishing off a successful week of getting things done!

Texas Conservation Corps Comes Home From Baton Rouge

Our Texas Conservation Corps composite disaster crew was deployed to Baton Rouge, Louisiana on September 28th, 2012. We drove 8 hours and arrived in Louisiana eager to help any way we can. Hurricane Isaac damaged 26 parishes (counties) throughout the southeast Louisiana area, many of which were affected by Hurricane Katrina as well. We arrived at the Joint Field Office – JFO in Baton Rouge on September 29th. We were amazed as to how many people were working so hard on a Saturday! We then learned that this was normal; there was so much to do. We jumped into orientation and met our leads right away. We were given information on Hurricane Isaac and our expected projects, received FEMA training, and were issued government laptops and cell phones.  It was a busy first day and we were excited to start out project.  We had Sunday off so we took a drive to a local Alligator festival.  We got to pet a baby alligator and Will and Molly tried alligator on a stick. The day was still young so we decided to drive over to New Orleans to visit Lisa a crew leader for TxCC and the St. Louis Emergency Response AmeriCorps team. We got to see where they are living and some members gave us a tour of the town.

Back to work on Monday! We began our week learning more about the affected parishes of Southeast Louisiana. We tried to get as much information as we could so we would be educated while calling agencies that were helping with relief efforts. Our mission was to create a Disaster Assistance Guide for the Southeast Louisiana area. We had an example that was used in Galveston, Texas but we needed to make it relevant to Louisiana. We compiled a list of agencies that could help people in need of services. Our job was to contact those agencies to see if they were still able to help and had enough resources.

We had a FEMA Corps team working with us to help make the calls and to put together the Disaster Assistance Guide. It was a great experience working with them. They loved hearing stories about the outdoors work that we do and enjoyed hearing about other AmeriCorps programs that are available across the country.

We have 1424 resources entered, we made 1356 calls to agencies, and we verified 328 of those agencies called, 170 have been entered into the Coordinated Assistance Network (CAN) and 99 of those are disaster specific resources. We also made 92 calls to re-verify the agencies’ resources and 46 of those were verified as quality resources.

We all got a taste of office work with FEMA. There is a birthday probably once a week which means cake! We were also here around Halloween so everyone has baskets of candy on their desks to share. The crew and I quickly understood what “FEMA 40” meant, there were snacks everywhere! Everyone in the office gives us FEMA hugs and their little hotel toiletries bottles because they felt bad we are sleeping on cots and all living together. Of course we are used to these living conditions, (sometimes worse!) but we never turn down free gifts and hugs.  Everyone is so friendly and happy around the office. It seems like they really enjoy what they are doing.

We got to explore Louisiana and go on some adventures as well. We took a weekend and traveled to New Orleans. Some of us had never spent any significant amount of time there so we walked around the French quarter, took the ferry across the river and explored canal st. When we first arrived to our hotel a few of the girls jumped on the bed right away because we hadn’t slept on a real bed for a while at that point. Well, I decided to do the same. When I heard “jump on the bed, Anna”, I assumed it meant jump up and down, so I did. Apparently I jumped too hard and the bed split in half. In my defense, the frame was made out of particle board and it looked like it had cracked before. Leave it to me to cause a scene. This past weekend Will and I went on a 3 mile hike around Indian Bayou in the Atchafalaya Wildlife refuge area. We saw an eagle, 4 alligators and many new trees species; it was a wonderful day in nature!

Overall, we have had a wonderful experience down in the Bayou. We got to experience a different side of disaster work and see how part of FEMA works. This has been an experience we will never forget.

Anna Marini, Crew Member

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ECorps Joins The Lost Pines Recovery Team in Bastrop

Bastrop County has a lot of work ahead, cleaning up from the Central Texas Wildfires of last September. Good thing we are right down the road! ECorps will be partnering with the County’s Environmental Task-force, the Lost Pines Recovery Team, seeding and mulching throughout the county on particularly bare and needy soil. We are hoping to beat the quick onset of summer and time our work right for some growth and protection, preserving public infrastructure and jump-starting landscape renewal. We will be on the ground throughout the month of May and can certainly use some volunteers. So sign up, come out, get dirty, make a difference (and in the meantime….READ STORIES AND SEE MORE PICTURES FROM THE FIELD BY CLICKING HERE).

SLA Member of the Month spends a week in the Davis Mtns with Texas Trail Tamers

I worked with the Central Texas Trail Tamers which was one of the best experiences of my life. We worked on the Davis Mountains Preserve building a trail going all the way around the side of a mountain side. I had a lot of fun out there with the views and the people; all of which were atleast 70 yrs old and up! The work we did out there was hard but fun and tiring. We got 1/4 of a mile done while we were out there and that’s good for how rocky it was and for how many big deep rocks I had to rockbar out or crush with a double jack. All and all I had a blast working with the Central Texas Trail Tamers and in the Davis Mountains Preserve building an equestrian trail. (I have never built one before!)

-SLA member

Parents of E-Corps

In Environmental Corps I have the privilege of working with many colleagues that inspire me with their work ethic, perseverance, and optimism. I am most impressed by the E-Corps members who show up with a smile on their face, put in a hard day’s work, and then go home to their second job- being a parent. E-Corps parents know how to build trails, run chainsaws, and change diapers. When they show up to American YouthWorks on time and prepared for the day, I know that they got up early to get their child ready for preschool as well. I am impressed by their dedication.

When asked about their personal goals, they ubiquitously state that they are not only in E-Corps because they care about the environment; they are also here to make a better future for themselves and their family. It’s a physically and mentally demanding job, but there are undeniable perks to being able to support their families with a steady wage, work towards graduation, and earn a scholarship for higher education simultaneously. I love speaking with them about their plans after graduation, and it is always exciting when they talk about wanting to continue conservation work as a career in the future. In addition, they help inspire the next generation of environmental stewards, as they often take their kids to site on the weekends to hike and see what they’re working on.

They are great crew members, and they really understand how to help make the crew love each other like family. They are great parents because they are a great example for their kids; they work to help the community, and embody the mission of AmeriCorps- they get things done for America! As a crew leader, it is pleasure to work with young men and women that not only fulfill their responsibilities as crew members, but also inspire all of us to challenge ourselves to aim high and fulfill our goals, in spite of hardship or obstacles. The parents of E-Corps show us all that with intention, hard work, and a positive attitude, we can all achieve success.

Madeline Enos – SLA Crew Leader

A San Antonio Tale

This past week, we spent Monday through Thursday in San Antonio, Texas.  What started out as a typical, hot Texas work week, turned into an emergency situation.  The first couple of days, we worked in the Acequias surrounding the San Antonio Missions. Acequias  are irrigation ditches created in the early 1700’s to divert water from the San Antonio river to farmlands surrounding the Missions.  Our job was to cut down and herbicide invasive plant life, such as Chinaberry, Ligustrum, Cat Claw and Arundo species.  Our sponsors and Parks crew for the week, Eric, Greg and Mario were all very knowledgeable and helpful.  All was well for the first two days – though hot and humid, the work was new and exciting because we were in an interesting and historic environment and we had chances to learn more about plant identification in areas outside of Austin.

On Wednesday, the work started off normally, but we soon were thrown into an unexpected situation.  Right before lunch two crew members were using brush cutters to cut down Arundo in an overgrown area near the San Juan Mission.  The vibrations from the brush cutters disturbed a hive of Africanized honey bees which caused them to swarm.  The bees began attacking and we all ran to exit the densely covered Arundo patch as quickly as we could.  The two members using brush cutters were hit the hardest and needed medical attention.  Luckily, we were surrounded by great people who were really helpful and got everyone the attention that was needed as quickly as possible. It was quite the experience, but definitely bonded us as a crew and we will now be more aware of the dangers presented by Texas wildlife.

Molly Coffman and Calla Gentiles, ECorps Members

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Will’s Story

My name is Will and I am an Americorps member. I was raised in a small community in rural Texas, near Austin. I was raised a home school-er and so I was inexperienced with large amounts of people. I was a very quiet person when I was put outside of my comfort zone, which meant that I did not reach out and meet new people. As I grew up my friends slowly moved away and, because I did not reach out, I did not find anyone to replace them. By the time I was thirteen my social circle had grown incredibly small and was showing no signs of changing, I tried occasionally to meet people but I was constantly dwelling on what people would think of me and gave up fairly quickly on these attempts at socializing. By the time I hit sixteen I had less than ten people that I enjoyed interacting with on a regular basis and I knew that something had to change.

My brother had briefly attended an American YouthWorks a local charter school in Austin and had told me stories of his fun times there, so I followed in his footsteps and attended AYW in the fall semester.

For the first year I was extremely anti-social, speaking to teachers more than students, and focusing entirely upon my school work. This is not what I came here for, I thought daily. Then one day the herald of my awakening walked through the door, sat next to me and said “You look like a quiet person, so I am going to sit with you.” From that point on I slowly began to emerge from my shell. Continue reading “Will’s Story”