Q&A with Huron Pines AmeriCorps member Jen Klemm

Jen Klemm

This is the third in a series of conversations with our 2020 Huron Pines AmeriCorps members. We talk highlights, takeaways, and what their average days have been like in a not-so-average service year.

Huron Pines AmeriCorps member Jennifer Klemm as introduced by Samantha Rogers, nurse for Crawford AuSable School District; and Kaitlyn Grieb, Fitness and Wellness Coordinator for Crawford County Commission on Aging:

“I have had the privilege of knowing Jen through various partnerships with Huron Pines, especially working with her on ‘Huron Pines Talks Nature, Fun and Safety.’ She was a terrific asset to the program as she was knowledgeable in all things nature and was able to generate cute ideas to appeal to the students of Grayling Elementary School. She was also very flexible with the way materials were sent out to kids as we were in the midst of the Stay Home, Stay Safe order. I enjoyed working and learning from Jen and wish her the best in her adventures.”

— Samantha Rogers, School Nurse, Crawford AuSable School District

“Jen was delightful to work with. I really enjoyed working with her on the Unwind Outside program as she has a wealth of knowledge of the outdoors. The group learned a lot from her and enjoyed her presence during the program. She was always on top of the program and provided participants with multiple resources to take home to dive deeper into nature journaling and the stretches we practiced.”

— Kaitlyn Grieb, Fitness and Wellness Coordinator, Crawford County Commission on Aging

Q&A with Huron Pines AmeriCorps Member Jennifer Klemm

Position: Environmental Education Specialist for Huron Pines, Gaylord
Hometown: East Tawas
Education: Bachelor of Science in anthropology (individually created program) from Northern Michigan University, pursuing master’s degree in applied ecology
Interests: Playing video games with friends, reading, baking, exploring Northern Michigan and Wisconsin

What drew you to Huron Pines AmeriCorps?

What drew me to Huron Pines AmeriCorps was their commitment to marrying environmentally sustainable work with community engagement. While many AmeriCorps programs focus on the human factor, considerations for the environment at large are also key in creating healthy communities. It’s amazing that Huron Pines is a conservation organization with a heart in the community and located in the heart of Michigan to boot.

Jen Klemm plants native shrubs during a gas well pad restoration project carried out by Huron Pines staff in the Pigeon River Country State Forest in June.

What experiences have you had during your service you think will serve you best on your career path?

Honestly, the sheer variety of work that I have been able to participate in will help me the most. Experience in the field, classrooms, offices, professional meetings, conferences and even time alone while developing content all serve to round out my future as an environmental educator.

Additionally, being able to interact with a wide variety of people who all have wildly different communication styles has been both eye opening and undoubtedly helpful for any future career I have. My demonstration of flexibility once shelter-in-place orders came through was really empowering as well — it pushed me to work in ways that I would have never guessed I could have.

In what ways did your work change after COVID hit? What was the biggest challenge you faced and how did you adapt?

Considering that my winter tasks had been to create event plans for upcoming in-person programs, all of that came to a screeching halt once shelter-in-place orders started. Since we didn’t know when it would be safe to host group events again, we pivoted hard to adapt the environmental education programs to a virtual environment — generally quite successfully too, based on feedback.

The only event I was able to really host in person was with the Crawford County Commission on Aging’s walking program where we were implementing our Unwind Outside initiative, and even then I had only two outings with the group.

Jen Klemm guides participants through Hartwick Pines State Park during an Unwind Outside event hosted in partnership with Crawford County Commission on Aging.

The biggest challenge has been navigating the creation of content solely for an online audience while figuring out ways to gauge their actual absorption of the knowledge presented. We have been leading training sessions where participants learn to identify invasive species and report them (where they are found). The trick is showing someone how to identify a plant when you can’t actually get out into the field with them.

I don’t think online learning can replace in-person learning but we have had some really heartening feedback. One woman actually had been planning on reporting a patch of purple loosestrife but, after attending our training on it, realized that she had been looking at a patch of native fireweed instead. Through a combination of pictures straight from the field, interactive techniques and simple mnemonics, environmental educators can create an experience that mimics the field as best as we can in the current landscape.

Klemm co-hosts an online Connecting to Nature session on native plants with Huron Pines Environmental Education Coordinator Emily Vogelgesang in April. (Zoom screenshot)

What was your best day?

I don’t know if any day could top the rush of our first Connecting to Nature session [online education series]. After having a tight turnaround of about two weeks to get the whole series created and advertised, we were shocked to see the attendance numbers keep climbing while waiting for the 1pm start to roll around. Ultimately, we had 26 people tune in the first session and there was some really lovely feedback. It really instilled a sense of camaraderie among all of us who rushed to create the program.

Anything else you’d like to share?

If anyone is on the fence about taking an AmeriCorps position — especially a Huron Pines AmeriCorps position — you should do it. While the pay is minimal, there are many, many people willing to help and tricks that former members have learned to really stretch dollars. Additionally, you have the chance to experience a wide variety of different positions and connect with your fellow service members in ways that are normally unheard of in the professional world. If I didn’t have other extenuating circumstances, I would have loved to do a second year and actively encourage anyone else to apply.

Learn more about Huron Pines AmeriCorps at huronpines.org/americorps.

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