‘More People Power’

Members of the 2011 AmeriCorps team collect seeds of native grasses and wildflowers to be cleaned and processed for use in a wetland/prairie restoration project.

Emily Jones, a recent graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in cell and developmental biology with plans for enrolling in medical school, had never heard of bush honeysuckle before she arrived at Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit Nov. 14, from her home in Traverse City, Mich.

Now Jones can not only spot the invasive plant species from a car window as she drives down the road, she gets angry just seeing it where it doesn’t belong.

That makes John Behrer, director of Shaw Nature Reserve, and the rest of the staff proud.

“The fact that they are now very aware of invasive plant species no matter where they are is a good thing,” he said.

“Invasive species, in general, are one of the most significant threats to biodiversity, second only to habitat destruction. Really, they are a form of habitat destruction.

“Aggressive invasives are so disruptive to natural systems because they push out native plants and animals,” Behrer explained.

Jones was one of more than a dozen 20-somethings who volunteered at Shaw Nature Reserve from mid-November to mid-December as part of an AmeriCorps National Civilian Conservation Corps (NCCC) team.

This is the fourth year the Nature Reserve has had an AmeriCorps team volunteer on the 2,400-acre property. Teams have been here in 2010, 2009 and 2002.

In 2009, the AmeriCorps volunteers assisted with ongoing glade restoration work. Last year, the team assisted with the first year of the Brush Creek Corridor restoration effort. That involved cutting back invasive species like bush honeysuckle in ecologically important areas.

This year, the AmeriCorps team whacked more bush honeysuckle and invasive privet shrubs.

They also assisted with collecting, cleaning and processing native grass and wildflower seeds that will be used to restore a 76-acre wetland/prairie area on the Reserve’s property on the other side of the Meramec River.

And they took part in a controlled burn of about 70 acres that, among other things, will eliminate nonnative invasive shrubs, opening the canopy to increase light penetration allowing native species to take root.

On rainy and extremely cold days, the AmeriCorps team worked indoors building birdhouses, painting signs and sanding and painting storm windows and outdoor furniture.

They also were able to tour the Butterfly House in Chesterfield and had plans to visit the Monsanto Research Center at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis.

James Trager, restoration biologist at Shaw Nature Reserve, gave the crew a Power Point presentation on the variety of programs offered through the Missouri Botanical Garden to “give a hint” at the garden’s educational role.

What Is AmeriCorps?

The AmeriCorps NCCC is a full-time, residential, national service program “that combines the best practices of civilian service with the best aspects of military service,” according to the application Behrer completed to have a team sent to SNR this fall.

“The mission is to strengthen communities and develop leaders through team-based national and community service.”

Limited to men and women between the ages of 18 and 24 from all over the country, AmeriCorps teams represent a wide variety of socioeconomic, cultural, geographic and educational backgrounds.

Like the team assigned to SNR this year, members can range from having college degrees to those who are working on high school equivalency diplomas.

Members “earn” their place on an AmeriCorps team by demonstrating “a commitment to serve their community, to develop practical skills and to make the nation stronger through a year of service.”

They sign up for a 10-month commitment and serve in teams of eight to 12 individuals. They are assigned to a number of projects in their regions. Each service project lasts six to eight weeks.

Typically projects include helping citizens prepare for and respond to natural and other disasters, constructing and rehabilitating low-income housing, building and repairing trails, leading and managing community volunteers, supporting academic achievement of students, and addressing other local needs.

In addition to gaining valuable work experience, each team member also receives a $5,500 scholarship toward college tuition or to help pay down college loans, as well as a small stipend, room and board and leadership development training.

During their service at Shaw Nature Reserve the AmeriCorps team stayed at Diamonds Inn Motel across the street from Shaw Nature Reserve on Highway 100 at Interstate 44.

The 2011 Team

Team members hailed from all over the country and from varying backgrounds. Several had just graduated high school in the spring and were looking to do something different before they start college or a career.

“I wanted to see a new state and see things differently,” said Marcella Villa Hernandez, 18, of California.

“I’ll start college soon, and I wanted to see what other opportunities were out there,” said Jazzmon Galloway, of North Carolina.

A few on the team had college experience or were recently graduated.

“I needed to find something while I think about what I want to do later,” said Neal Buxton, 24, of Rhode Island.

Todd Baker, 24, from Illinois, served on an AmeriCorps team last year and decided to re-enlist this year as a team leader.

“I’ll go to graduate school next for something enviroment-related,” he said, noting he has a bachelor’s degree in biology. “So this is helpful.”

Jones said she joined AmeriCorps because she wanted to travel a little and have some time off before starting medical school, but the experience has been even more fulfilling.

“I would never do this in medical school, or in any other part of my life,” Jones remarked. “I would never be cutting back bush honeysuckle.”

Other team members agreed.

‘They Catch on Quick’

Behrer said he has been pleased with the work this year’s AmeriCorps team provided.

“They caught on quick,” Behrer remarked. “The staff here showed them what to do, coached them . . . it’s a learning experience.”

He admits many years ago the teams weren’t as productive, but says they have improved greatly and are now a useful resource, no matter what the work. He plans to apply for an AmeriCorps team to return to SNR each year.

“We’d like to make it an annual thing as long as the program stays strong,” said Behrer.

“We plan on doing this as long as its available. It’s a big help to us — it’s more people power to get things done.”