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By: Ellie Bullard

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Finding the Community Forestry Initiative after life on the road

Before serving with Community Forestry Initiative, Sara Arsenault wandered the US, heading to wherever her next gig in environmental field work took her. She tracked Gypsy Moths in Washington, fought fires in Oregon, trapped invasive beetles in Minnesota, and even gathered tree samples in Mexico, each time excited to see what would come next. She loved the way field work let her be close to nature, something she had always wanted out of a job ever since she was young.

Her roaming spirit led her to buy a van and drive it to Mexico. “I just love the Pacific Ocean and ended up all the way down at the tip of Baja California.” After expenses piled up, she headed back to her native Minnesota, eventually finding a position with the Community Forestry Initiative in St. Peter, where she grew up.

A perfect balance

For Sara, the Community Forestry Initiative has been a perfect blend of field work and office work. As an AmeriCorps member, she helps with tree identification and also public environmental education. She’s been able to use her deep knowledge of the field while gaining experience in an office environment. “I’d like to be the person in the office, but I don’t have office experience on my resume.” She still has her van – she just uses it these days to commute.

It wasn’t always easy living with the environmental field work lifestyle, so she’s happy to have found something that’s more predictable. “You know it is going to come to an end and you’re always thinking in the back of your mind, where am I gonna travel to? What am I gonna do? This feels more realistic.”

Finding a desk job in this line of work has proven to be a challenge, though, and she almost gave up until she found her placement with the Community Forestry Initiative at the City of St. Peter. “The Community Forestry Initiative put me back into the industry that I had given up on. It got me back into the field that I’m passionate about.” With the City of St. Peter, Sara finds that she’s well-respected and valued for her expertise.

Full circle

It makes sense that Sara found her way back to AmeriCorps, since she first served at the very beginning of her professional career with REAL Corps in Oregon, a program similar to Conservation Corps. Her service with REAL Corps building trails, clearing waterways, and serving on other projects helped spark her journey in environmental field work.

Sara’s service with the Community Forestry Initiative also mirrors her past experience in another way – she’s been supporting St. Peter’s fight against the Emerald Ash Borer beetles, the same beetles she helped trap about 10 years ago with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. These beetles feed on and kill Ash Trees, which are one of the most populous trees in St. Peter. Sara is helping to track the location and details of local Ash Trees so that the town can work on prevention before the Emerald Ash Borer infects the trees.

Doing this meaningful service in her hometown has brought everything together for Sara. “My life’s come full circle. I’ve had this full 360 of experiences,” she said. She’s also found a new place in a community she’s known her whole life. “The Community Forestry Initiative gives you a sense of purpose and importance in the community. That feels really good. I’m providing strength to an organization that wouldn’t be there otherwise.”

Community Forestry Initiative and many other AmeriCorps programs are currently recruiting! To apply to serve with Community Forestry Initiative, visit their website. For all other programs, start your application by filling out our contact form.

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