Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Conservation Service Leads to Inspiring and Diverse Career Environments

Huron Pines AmeriCorps Coordinator Sarah Topp cuts a cake at a celebration for Huron Pines AmeriCorps members and supervisors.

Huron Pines AmeriCorps members complete 1,700 hours of conservation work each year and the benefits go well beyond their ten months of service. These dedicated conservationists and educators leave with valuable experience they carry forward into their lives and careers.

In 2018 alone, Huron Pines AmeriCorps members restored or improved 1,315 public river miles, 376 public trail miles and 30,909 public acres of land, and engaged 3,140 volunteers in almost 25,000 hours of service. These numbers are a small measure of their long-term impact on Michigan’s natural resources.

The Huron Pines AmeriCorps program began as a way for people just starting their careers to gain hands-on conservation experience while giving back to Michigan communities. Over more than a decade, the program has helped cultivate the next generation of leaders in conservation. There’s nothing we enjoy more than hearing about where our alums have landed, so we thought we’d share a few stories with you.

There and Back Again

When Sarah Topp became the new Huron Pines AmeriCorps Coordinator in 2018, she returned not only to her hometown of Gaylord, but to AmeriCorps itself. She first served as a Huron Pines AmeriCorps member with Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) in 2015.

“I coordinated their On the Ground program, which is a wildlife habitat improvement program that gets volunteers on public land, planting trees and building habitat for game species,” Topp said.

Topp parlayed her Huron Pines AmeriCorps experience into full-time conservation work with MUCC, building partnerships and expanding their state-wide footprint, before recently taking on the role as the Huron Pines AmeriCorps Coordinator. Now she recruits new members with a passion for natural resources and places them in conservation roles at host sites across the state. She leads orientation programs, manages project funding, coordinates member communications, develops trainings and more.

“I found that I really liked working with people and helping them find their career path,” Topp said. “It’s nice to be reminded of where I was, and to see again and again how the experience opens doors.”

Hands-on Experience

Former Huron Pines AmeriCorps member Daniel Moffatt recently purchased a historic farmhouse where he plans to follow a dream of pairing small-scale farming with community education on regenerative agriculture and the local food system. To prepare, he currently works as a farmhand on an organic vegetable farm in Northeast Michigan.

On the farm, Moffatt still draws on his experience with Huron Pines AmeriCorps. “Tree and plant species, watershed knowledge and environmental volunteer involvement—these are the things that continue to influence my life today,” he said.

Moffatt served with Huron Pines AmeriCorps as Education Coordinator with the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena in 2012.

“During my service both teachers and community partners inspired me,” Moffatt said. “I knew that someday I wanted to be on the other side of the table.”

Bringing Nature to the City

Angel Squalls works for the City of Detroit GSD Forestry Department as Associate Forester, where she assists with the management of daily forestry operations and residential forestry concerns, and organizes Mayor Duggan’s 10,000 Up program.

“We will plant 10,000 trees in the City of Detroit over the next three years, to increase tree canopy in neighborhoods, replacing trees that have been removed from disease, and bring all the benefits of trees to residents,” she said.

Before entering her career, Squalls came to her 10-month service with Huron Pines AmeriCorps in 2018 having already served with the D-YES AmeriCorps program in which she provided energy education and weatherized homes for low-income families in Detroit. With Huron Pines AmeriCorps, Squalls was Cooperative Programs Developer for the Michigan DNR Urban Forestry Division in Lansing, where, among other things, she reviewed grant applications, assisted in event planning, provided environmental education and outreach and, of course, planted trees.

“All the knowledge I gained with AmeriCorps and Huron Pines through tree planting and educational workshops on forest health and urban forestry really made the difference for me,” she said.

Focused On Corporate Responsibility

When Jon Prins served with Huron Pines AmeriCorps he was looking to switch industries and shift career focus. “I wanted to do something different with my work outside of corporate America, to follow my passion for the outdoors,” he said.

Prins served with the Grand Traverse Conservation District in 2009 focusing on marketing and outreach following the construction of a new nature center near Traverse City. The service paid off. After he finished, Prins worked full-time with Grand Traverse Conservation District before leaving to earn his masters of business administration at the University of Colorado, and then working for agencies, start-ups and apparel brands, among others, on sustainability issues.

Prins now works for furniture maker Steelcase in Grand Rapids as a senior member of the sustainability team. He collaborates cross functionally to help envision and achieve Steelcase’s sustainability aspirations. His work involves managing external stakeholder relationships, translating insights into action and finding ways to make Steelcase’s work more timely, efficient and robust.

“For any role in sustainability—non-profit or for-profit—you’re trying to influence behavior and communicate in a way that’s empathetic. I learned those skills in AmeriCorps—to take that passion for conservation and translate it in a way that resonates.”

For Prins, and for all Huron Pines AmeriCorps alums, the experience is indispensable for building skills and making professional connections. Sometimes, more importantly, it solidifies a connection to nature that lasts a lifetime.

“I know a lot more about what’s going on in the forest. I carry that with me to this day,” Prins said. “I can still identify all the spring flowers and plants, which adds a level of enjoyment that I can pass on to others. That part of AmeriCorps will always live on.”

Clockwise: Angel Squall plants her first tree with the DNR Urban Forestry Division. Daniel Moffatt in the field with a group of students during his Huron Pines AmeriCorps service. Jon Prins with a fresh catch during a trip to Alaska.

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