Justine Cucchiara, CAC AmeriCorps Alum 2010-2011 & 2011-2012
If I had realized what I was embarking on when I applied to be an AmeriCorps Member, I probably would not have gone through with it. I was in the midst of finishing a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife and Fisheries at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville when I caught wind of a CAC AmeriCorps position at Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge. The position had been filled twice and both times personal circumstances had prevented the Member from finishing the term.
I worked with a partner at Seven Islands for two full terms. The bulk of our responsibilities at the Refuge involved wielding a machete and hacking away at the weedy growth around 10,000 trees that had been planted through a habitat restoration grant. The work was monotonous at times, but we got to be out of doors in one of the most beautiful places I could imagine and we were making a difference. Over those two years I learned the land and came to love it.
We worked most days on the site but habitat restoration was only part of our efforts. As an AmeriCorps Member, I attended interest group meetings, participated in the organization of fundraisers, and began to grasp the importance of collaboration and partnerships. I learned to keep a log of my activities and to report pertinent information when appropriate. I learned how to set goals and to work to achieve them; when to ask for help; and how to sharpen a machete like a pro.
When my two years of service at Seven Islands came to an end, I became their Science Research Coordinator. I took the position as Assistant Lands Manager the following year. In 2013, four years after first setting foot on the property, I became the Lands Manager at Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge. In 2014, Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge became Seven Islands State Birding Park, making it Tennessee’s 56th state park and the first state park to be focused on managing bird habitat. I was given the honor and responsibility of staying on as Park Manager of Seven Islands State Birding Park.
If I had had an inkling back then of what I was getting into in becoming an AmeriCorps Member, I would have run for the hills. The thing is, I am not the person who took that position. I am a far more confident, competent and willing person then I ever was before. My experience with CAC AmeriCorps set me on a journey of growth and fulfillment. Today I welcome a challenge. I take every opportunity to learn and to be of service, and for that I am truly grateful to be an AmeriCorps Alum.
This blog post is a collection of personal reflections and expressions. All opinions represented are those of the author and do not represent the official opinion or views of the Knoxville – Knox County Community Action Committee, CAC AmeriCorps or any other party referenced.