Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in AmeriCorps NCCC

By Reuben Allen

Reuben Allen (second row left) says his time in AmeriCorps NCCC had an influence on every aspect of his life)

Member finds a career, a life, and a wife through program

Every aspect of my life and career is a direct result of my time in AmeriCorps NCCC. In the spring of 2001, while on my first spike, I spent two months living and working in Coney Island, NY. I assisted in a fourth-grade classroom and worked with my team to establish an after-school program in the Ocean Towers housing projects where we lived alongside many of the students we served. This was a far cry from my rural hometown in the mountains of southeastern Idaho.

Growing up on the edge of the Rocky Mountains, I had spent little time thinking about the need to conserve open space and provide natural areas for people to reflect, recreate, and rejuvenate. Everything around me was open space. Opportunities for hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing surrounded me. The importance of conserved outdoor space did not strike me until I felt a personal need for it while living in Coney Island. After about a month there, I yearned to smell trees, listen to birds, anything to connect with nature.

Around this time, a few of my teammates and I made the trip into Manhattan and spent the day in Central Park. Although I was still in the middle of the most populated city in America, that trip to the park gave me what I needed. I was able to reconnect with the natural world. At that moment, the importance of parks and their role in providing natural environments for people to reflect, recreate, and rejuvenate was clear to me. 

In 2002 I returned to NCCC for another year of service—this time as a team leader. My 10 months as a team leader changed everything I thought I knew about leadership. During this time I developed the tools needed to successfully supervise, manage, and lead. Even more importantly, I learned how not to supervise, manage, and lead. These are lessons that have benefited me and everyone I have supervised since.

In 2003, I was able to combine my passions for the environment and community service, and continue to hone my leadership skills when I was hired, along with a friend and fellow NCCC team leader, as a park manager with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC). In this capacity we served as seasonal park rangers, responsible for the day-to-day operations and maintenance of a Vermont State Park, while also serving as crew leaders for the 10 VYCC members living and working at the park.

Although neither of us knew anything about park management, we were both passionate about service and the environment, and NCCC had taught us each how to lead. This experience with the VYCC taught me the ins and outs of park management, and provided an opportunity to further develop my leadership skills.

Now, more than a decade later I am employed by Vermont State Parks as a Regional Ranger Supervisor, responsible for supervising the operation of 13 state parks. My fellow team leader, co-park manager, and “friend” is now my wife, and we are expecting our third child this summer. Had I not served in NCCC none of this would be. Every aspect of my life and career is a direct result of my time in NCCC.

The Corporation for National and Community Service is celebrating the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps and highlighting the theme of environmental stewardship during the month of April. For more information about the 20th anniversary, please visit the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary Resource Center.

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