Member Feature - Gina Hatch
Meet your fellow AmeriCorps members and the programs they serve with our monthly member spotlight.
This month’s member spotlight is on Gina Hatch, the Visitor Services Intern serving with the Conservation Corps!
What program do you serve with?
I’m currently serving with the Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa, specifically under their Individual Placement program. While the Conservation Corps is probably best known for putting youth and young adults out in the field on conservation projects sporting the iconic yellow hard hats, their Individual Placement (IP) program also gives service members a chance to experience important parts of conservation that don’t necessarily take place on the ground and in stylish safety equipment.
IP members are placed with various conservation partner agencies such as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or the Center for Energy and Environment, often in more office-oriented jobs, though not always. These positions can involve anything from social media and web design to Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping. As an IP this year, I’ve been serving with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington, Minnesota.
What do you do in your position?
I work as a Visitor Services Intern at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Minnesota Valley NWR is one of over 560 refuges in a network that spans the country from Hawaii to Alaska to Puerto Rico. These refuges are all public land managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service whose mission is “working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.”
Beyond biology and land conservation, a lot goes into managing these refuges and making them valuable, welcoming places for the public and surrounding communities. As a key urban refuge, Minnesota Valley NWR has an especially large staff with specialists in things like urban outreach, environmental education, volunteer coordination, and GIS.
My service as a Visitor Services Intern at the refuge can encompass anything that touches the public. I get to rove our trails and make sure trail kiosks are intact and stocked with brochures. Back at the visitor center, I lead informal interpretive talks for the public, help create interactive displays, and design signs. I participate in planning large events and programs hosted at the refuge or around the metro area.
With the busy summer season behind us, though, I’ve been spending most of my time up in the office area of the visitor center. My current focus is creating a short video to introduce visitors and school groups to the refuge; it’s been a lot of fun to take on this project even though it’s not quite in my wheelhouse!
What interested you in serving with AmeriCorps and with your specific program?
I can’t say I knew exactly what I was getting into in serving as an IP with the Conservation Corps, but there were a lot of things that appealed to me at face value and still more things I have learned to appreciate over time. I’ll start off with two more general notes.
For one, I liked the philosophy of service that drives AmeriCorps as a whole. Even though I knew I wouldn’t necessarily feel it everyday, I liked the idea of being able to remind myself that I was committed to something larger--that my daily tasks at my site had been selected and curated with a national vision of change in mind. It’s an abstract part of the work but still significant, I think.
The value that the Conservation Corps places on their members’ professional and personal development was another a really big draw for me. As a recent graduate, I felt like I was still in a very exploratory phase. I wanted a post-grad experience that would give me tangible, specialized skills in the conservation field without boxing me in too much or sending me straight down a singular path.
Serving with the Conservation Corps and at my specific service site has indeed given me many new threads to grasp onto--threads that have materialized in both formal and informal ways. As part of my program, I’ve been able to access professional development funds that I used to attend a landscape architecture conference, for instance.
As another example, being part of a small cohort of other IP members has speckled my service year with lots of really interesting and memorable conversations, allowing me to learn informally from like-minded peers and not just formally from adults advanced in their careers. And not to mention, our cohort retreats have taken me to awesome places around the state!
And then finally of course, the specific position that I applied for seemed like a really good match for my interests. I wanted to learn more about urban environmental outreach and about systemic barriers facing populations that are severely underrepresented in outdoor settings and in environmental fields. Working in Visitor Services at an urban wildlife refuge has been totally eye opening on this front. I don’t think I could have picked a better setting.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Cooking and running are probably my two biggest hobbies outside of service. This past year I gave birth to a sourdough starter that has led to lots of fun and delicious baking experiments. When I’m feeling really relaxed about my life, I also try to spend time drawing or water coloring and learning new crafts.
Thanks Gina for being our spotlight! Do you have someone you’d like to nominate as our next Member Spotlight? Send us your nomination at email@example.com.