In honor of AmeriCorps Week, I’m interviewing people who are current or former AmeriCorps members, to talk with them about their service, and its impact on their communities and their careers. This interview is with Randall Cass, a former Idealist.org intern who’s currently serving with the Northwest Service Academy (NWSA).
Where do you serve?
I am the AmeriCorps placement at Oregon Tilth’s Organic Education Center. Oregon Tilth is a nonprofit dedicated to organic research, education, and certification.
What were you doing before you joined AmeriCorps?
I started my position about four months after I graduated from college. During those months I worked a retail job (not really my thing) while crashing on my sister’s couch until I found a place of my own.
Why did you join AmeriCorps? What did you hope to accomplish?
I wanted hands-on agricultural experience, so I could’ve simply taken a job as a field hand — but I also wanted to gain professional experience, to network, and to hone my skills as an educator. AmeriCorps would be something that would stand out on a resume. Moreover, I was fairly certain I wanted to pursue a career in sustainable agriculture and I felt that a year of service with an agricultural nonprofit would reaffirm or challenge that notion.
What have you done during your term of service so far?
I am lucky to have a position that requires me to manage a diverse array of tasks. In addition to assisting in the maintenance of our organic demonstration garden site, I help plan and facilitate environmental education and organic gardening curriculum for adults and children, coordinate volunteers in our garden, attend community meetings as a representative of the organization, advocate for Oregon Tilth and the organic movement at conferences, take part in organizational strategic planning, write articles for Oregon Tilth’s bi-monthly magazine, and so much more.
How many other NWSA members served with you (at Oregon Tilth, if any)?
I am the only AmeriCorps member at Oregon Tilth this year, but I am part of a Garden Based Education team through NWSA that consists of other AmeriCorps placements in similar fields. We meet up once a month for skills trainings and to check in with one another. We also hang out a lot outside of NWSA – hiking, pub trivia nights, kickball games, etc.
What impact has your work at Oregon Tilth had on the community?
I believe we are proving to be a great resource for people interested in organics and growing their own food. Between climate change and countless food-safety scares, now it’s more important than ever to know where food comes from and how to grow it organically. Organic gardening isn’t only good for the environment — gardening also provides people with exercise, builds community by offering an abundant bounty to share with neighbors, and increases local food security.
What has been the greatest challenge?
My job is a constant balancing act. I have a variety of duties, each with separate and unique demands. Initially I found it difficult to juggle my responsibilities. It was very much a crash course in Nonprofit 101, but I emerged with a better handle on organizational skills such as prioritizing, delegating, clear communication.
How else has your NWSA service helped you?
NWSA offers first aid trainings, diversity workshops, and AmeriCorps appreciation events. I am very pleased with NWSA’s commitment to being a resource for us through our term of service. I’m especially thankful because I’ve spoken with members from other placement organizations that have found support a bit lacking.