ServeNebraska: How do you think the Conservation Nebraska impacts Nebraska?
Amanda Gangwish: One of the biggest things that we focus on at Conservation Nebraska, and one of the biggest things our AmeriCorps members focus on, is this educational aspect of giving communities access to education on conservation issues they face. Since we have been able to have the AmeriCorps program we’ve really been able to expand our reach and so the biggest thing that AmeriCorps has allowed us to do on that front is reach more people across the state than what we could have done before.
SN: Why do you think that conservation is a key focus area for Nebraska?
AG: The biggest thing we’ve always said is that everyone needs clean air, everyone needs clean water. Conservation is an issue that affects all of us in one form or another, so it’s also important that everyone has access to education and access steps that they can take to address these issues their communities face.
SN: What kinds of people would be most interested in the Conservation Nebraska AmeriCorps program?
AG: For the most part we tend to see college students, whether they are just getting ready to wrap up or have recently graduated that had some sort of environmental focus within their education. They’re just looking for the next step of what they can do with that education and how they can take that and apply it out in the real world. We’ll also see people who are taking a gap year before they start college, so they are doing this as a way to see where they want to go with their college degree. I’ve had a handful that are retired and so they’re doing this as a way to give back to their community because it’s an issue they were passionate about already. We see a wide variety of people. We cater to a lot of people because, again, this issue encompasses a lot of people and demographics.
SN: The Conservation Nebraska AmeriCorps program is statewide, how many communities across the state do your members serve?
AG: We have 5 [host] sites across the state but reach 25-30 communities in any given year. The sites are their [AmeriCorps members] home base and they travel out to surrounding communities.
SN: What would you say to someone who is passionate about conservation, but feels overwhelmed at the size of the problem and doesn’t know where to start?
AG: First off, I hear you! I would say that continuing your education is important. The more you learn about the issue, sometimes it can put you in that spiral of, “what can we actually do about this,” but learning about the issue allows you to learn what you can do as an individual or what your family can do to help. Finding those smaller bite-sized things that individuals can do is always a really good stepping block to what can become a bigger impact. You start with those everyday changes that you can make in your life and, as that becomes an everyday part of your routine, that can start to build and grow into a larger-scale action.
SN: What partnerships within the community, besides AmeriCorps of course, help you get things done?
AG: A lot, actually. Over the course of the last few years, we’ve partnered with over 200 organizations across the state. We do a lot with the Keep America Beautiful affiliates, Fontanelle Forest, the Crane Center, Lauritzen Gardens, there are a lot of them each with their own conservation areas.
SN: Do you think that Conservation Nebraska will keep some of the adaptions which were made in response to COVID after the pandemic has passed?
AG: Before COVID we were hosting about 300 events per year. We eventually will get to that point again after COVID, but yes, the idea is to stick with some online events, whether that means having regular online exclusive events or integrating virtual and in-person events. We have seen some success with it and received a lot of feedback where people say, “I love that I don’t have to drive anywhere now or travel to get to these events.”
SN: Where should we send someone who is interested in becoming an AmeriCorps member with Conservation Nebraska?
AG: Send them my way! There are plenty of avenues that I accept for starting the conversation! You can email me or the general Conservation Nebraska email [firstname.lastname@example.org] which is on our website, so you can visit our website. I’ve even received messages on social media!
SN: Are there any qualifications?
AG: For us, it’s just basic AmeriCorps requirements! (Aged 17 and up, U.S. citizen, U.S. National, or Lawful Resident, and able to pass a national service criminal history check) We just ask that you have a passion for conservation!
SN: Lastly, what would be your recommendation for the first step toward a greener life?
AG: I think a lot of people do this but, if you don’t, recycling. That’s an easy one that people can do, especially in larger communities. Water conservation is also an easy one. Can you shave a few minutes off your shower? Do you shut off the water when you’re brushing your teeth?
*Answers edited for length and clarity.
If you would like to learn more about the Conservation Nebraska AmeriCorps program, visit their website here.