Americorps-Vista volunteer gains experience

Last weekend found Kenner Sims registering rafts and rafters for the 2014 Mighty Muskingum River Raft Regatta at Marietta’s Indian Acres Park. Later in the week the 33-year-old from Amesville was working on developing a new local watershed monitoring group in the Friends of the Lower Muskingum Watershed’s recently-opened McConnelsville office.

As an Americorps-Vista volunteer, Sims is putting his education in fish and wildlife conservation to good use on behalf of the Friends of the Lower Muskingum group.

“From our very beginning Americorps and Vista volunteers have been at the root of how we’re able to function,” said Jesse Daubert, watershed coordinator for Friends of the Lower Muskingum.

He noted former watershed coordinator Kristyn Robinson started as an Americorps-Vista volunteer, as was Daubert himself.

“It’s a great program for people just graduating from college to gain a lot of experience in a variety of fields,” Daubert said. “And we’re really blessed to have Kenner at our new McConnelsville office.”

Sims said the experience is rewarding.

Question: How did you become involved with Americorps-Vista?

Answer: I was on a local list of volunteers and received a random job email about an Americorps-Vista position from Jesse Daubert who was in need of someone to work with the Friends of the Lower Muskingum Watershed group. Washington Water Solutions provides the funding for my service, which is a one-year program with a very small stipend to help cover living costs. And at the end of the year the program provides some assistance with my college loan.

Q: So basically you’re working for the watershed group with little to no monetary compensation?

A: Yes, but this is a great stepping stone to a job in my field. I’m getting a lot of valuable experience, and it’s good for your resume. When they see you’ve spent a year working 40 hours a week as a volunteer, employers know you’re pretty dedicated.

Q: How did you become interested in watershed management?

A: When I started school at Hocking College I earned an associate degree in fisheries and conservation. But then I did an internship with the Raccoon Creek Watershed group and found I really enjoyed working with watershed preservation. And I just finished my bachelor’s degree in fish and wildlife conservation management.

Q: What are you doing as a volunteer with the Friends of the Lower Muskingum Watershed?

A: Right now I’m laying out the groundwork for a project on Mans Fork and Meigs Creek in this end of the watershed, including establishing a team of volunteers to do sampling for chemicals and aquatic life in those streams. I also did a two-week environmental program at the Hervida 4-H Camp called “In the Creek,” teaching kids about stream life, pollution, and how certain species of insects can help indicate good stream conditions. I’ve also applied to the Ohio Environmental Education Fund to hopefully get some monies for more educational programs in the future.

Q: You also help with fundraising for the watershed group?

A: There’s not a lot of money available to fund watershed work, so it takes a lot of fundraisers like the Raft Regatta to support the effort. I’m currently trying to put together a trail riding fundraising event in the Caldwell area called “The Ride for the River Challenge.” Participants will ride about 50 miles on paved and gravel roads on property owned by American Electric Power. October 25 will be the date, but we’re still in the early stages of planning.

Q: Would you encourage others to become involved with Americorps-Vista?

A: Definitely. You can apply for a whole realm of available positions. Or you can indicate an area of interest and they will help pick a position that’s suitable. Anyone who has an interest in volunteering should check it out.

Sam Shawver conducted this interview.