[ACE]: Tell me about your background.
[TD]: I’m from Connecticut. I went to school in LA for english actually, so I’m sort of out of my element here but in a good way. At school I just had this realization that I needed to get back out into the wilderness. Instead of getting an editing job after graduating like I had initially planned, I went to work for a nonprofit doing graphic design. I just wanted to get back to nature. I don’t have the normal background of a lot of ACE corps members–many have degrees in environmental science or something similar. It’s helped me to decide what I want to be in life. Before this I thought i’d just do an editing job and maybe work for a magazine or publishing company but then I came out here, and now I’m really focused on getting an environmental education job. I definitely feel like I can shape my experience here for my future.
What motivated you to get into the field of conservation?
When I was little I was always camping and hiking and I loved being outdoors. When I was living in Los Angeles I was really starved for contact with the wilderness and I just really didn’t feel fulfilled. On my days off I’d go on hikes and those always made me feel a little bit better. So I realized what makes me happiest is being outdoors. So when I was thinking about what to do after college, I talked to a career counselor. My counselor told me about his girlfriend who had done an Americorps conservation program and it just sounded so cool, like exactly what I wanted to do. So I looked into it because I knew I needed a change.
Can you tell me about one highlight and one challenge during your internship?
I think my challenges tend to also be highlights, because when you push through the difficult things you’re just so satisfied. For me, rock work has always been one of the greatest challenges but also one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done at ACE. I still carry around this photograph of this beautiful staircase we built on a project in Holbrook, so when people ask me “What do you do?” I hold that up and I’m like, “THIS is what I do!” I love seeing a finished rock work project. It makes you feel so good about what you’ve done. Because you’re moving tons of pounds of rock. Halfway through it you just wanna punch a boulder.
Do you think this position has helped prepare you for the future?
Yeah, I think it has. One of the great things about ACE is you have all these people who are recent college graduates and are just trying to figure out what to do with their lives. It’s fun because you’re not only doing this manual labor that teaches you hard skills, but you’re living in this community that’s really supportive and motivating. People will tell you about jobs they heard of, or you’ll do applications together, you can help each other out that way. I like that.
What do you think sets ACE apart from other organizations?
I would say it’s the passion of the people that I see every day. I’ve never had a bad crew leader or a leader who wasn’t excited about the work they were doing. I think that really helps, because even on your worst days the people around you are still there and still enthusiastic about getting you motivated. And you can always say, “Hey, I’m not feeling great,” or something and they’re there right away to help you and to excite you again.
Do you have any advice you’d give to someone who’s looking to join ACE?
I’d say don’t doubt yourself. I came in worried that I’d be the least prepared person in ACE. I thought everyone would have all this experience and be really physically fit, like backpacking huge distances every weekend or something. I thought I’d be so exhausted I wouldn’t be able to swing a pick. And yeah…The first few days it’s a little hard. But you see pretty quickly how easy it is to get into the rhythm of things. One of the biggest problems I had was worrying if I would be ready for ACE. But I’d say just give it a shot!