AmeriCorps/Rubicon team member volunteers when needed

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Hannah Davey (left) and her supervisor, Jason Taylor, Executive Director at Bur Oak Land Trust, were on location with Team Rubicon in Mayfield, Ky., assisting with storm damage caused by a devestating tornado on Dec. 10, 2021. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

AmeriCorps invites individuals from all walks of life to serve alongside each other for the betterment of every community. Their mission is to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering. 

Hannah Davey, AmeriCorps worker

Hannah Davey, former Clayton Ridge graduate, is a member of the AmeriCorps team. She graduated from Clayton Ridge School in 2014, and attended Iowa State University, earning a degree in animal ecology in 2018. 

Her interest in the conservation field, and the protection of native Iowa landscapes, inspired her to become involved in the AmeriCorps program. "I became an AmeriCorps member because it seemed like an excellent opportunity to gain a lot of hands-on experience and training in the conservation field," said Davey. "I was interested in working with a land trust and learning how they protect native Iowa landscapes. There are a lot of AmeriCorps programs ranging from conservation, education programs or working with agencies like the Red Cross. The AmeriCorps program that I am involved with is a program specific to Bur Oak Land Trust, a conservation non profit organization based in Iowa City." 

AmeriCorps is comprised of 270,000 members and volunteers with a willingness to serve in organizations that are dedicated to strengthening communities. "There are not many requirements that have to be met to become part of the AmeriCorps team, which was great for me as I was just starting my career," she commented. "However, prior experience in the conservation field, a related degree or strong interest in pursuing a career in conservation is preferred for the AmeriCorps program with Bur Oak Land Trust." 

Bur Oak Land Trust

Established in 1978, Bur Oak Land Trust is a non-profit organization on a mission to advance biodiversity in eastern Iowa through the protection of resilient landscapes and connecting people to nature. "Bur Oak Land Trust has provided all necessary training for all of the AmeriCorps members," commented Davey. "They have also supported us gaining additional training and professional development. During my time with AmeriCorps I have been trained or certified on topics including wildland fire, chainsaw safety, advanced chainsaw use, drone piloting, pesticide use, and wilderness first aid, just to name a few. Bur Oak is not only focused on great conservation work but also creating smart land stewards who go on to have impressive jobs in the conservation field."

AmeriCorps members, through the Bur Oak Land Trust, focus on habitat restoration of native Iowan landscapes. "Our work ranges from cutting and treating invasive species with herbicide, prescribed burns on prairies or woodlands, timber stand improvement (a large amount of chainsaw work), volunteering with other agencies, flying a drone to create property maps, maintaining some trails, etc.," she noted. 

Team Rubicon

Davey also recently became involved with Team Rubicon, a volunteer organization serving communities by mobilizing veterans to continue their service, utilizing their skills and experience to help people prepare, respond, and recover from disasters and humanitarian crises. "I recently became involved with Team Rubicon because of my supervisor, Jason Taylor, Executive Director at Bur Oak. Team Rubicon is an organization focused on recruiting retired veterans, emergency responders and other volunteers. Jason is a retired Marine and has been a member of the organization for some time," she explained. "Through AmeriCorps we can occasionally be deployed as a disaster response team. Jason, Natalie Schoen (another AmeriCorps member), and myself have an interest in participating in disaster response as volunteers outside of the AmeriCorps program. A few of us trained to be members of a sawyer strike team when deploying with Team Rubicon, although there are many roles of equal importance on disaster response operations."

Mayfield, Kentucky tornado

On Dec. 10, 2021, a violent, long-tracked tornado moved across Western Kentucky, inflicting severe to catastrophic damage in numerous towns, including Mayfield, Ky. Davey and the Rubicon team were on hand to assist with cleanup following the devastating weather event. "Most of my time was spent on a sawyer strike team. A lot of the work was similar to the tree damage we saw around Cedar Rapids after the derecho, very complex and challenging cutting," said Davey. "We were focused on cleaning up tree debris that was blocking access to people's homes or were considered hazard trees. One of the most impactful days was the final day of our deployment when I helped with debris removal at a house." 

Davey recounted the event. She shared, "We approached a 'house,' which was really just the flooring and one wall of what used to be the kitchen. A little girl was crouched nearby coloring; this used to be her grandparents house. A few family members and a neighbor were around sorting through debris and cleaning up what they could. The strike team leader was removing debris from the kitchen so they could tear down the final wall, after which the family could determine if the house would be demolished or if they would rebuild on what remained of the foundation. As a random civilian I was overwhelmed on where to start cleaning up; I could not even imagine how overwhelmed and in shock the family was. Where do you start cleaning? What is worth saving? Where will they stay? How long will it be before their life goes back to normal?" 

Davey went on to say, "As we sorted through the debris we collected broken pieces of family china that they  were going to make into some sort of artwork, a way to save part of their family history. I picked up pieces of clothing, shook out the drywall and folded it – adding it to the pile of salvageable belongings. I flipped over a broken picture frame with a photo of their grandchildren, some important paperwork, house keys and children’s toys. Some of these items seem like they were arbitrary to pick up and keep, but you never know if any of these simple items hold significant value to the people who lived there. Their whole house is destroyed and now they have to start over with close to nothing. Pulling out a small pile of things that were saved could mean the world to that family. Picking out items from piles of rubble that were saved by random chance is extremely different than cutting trees that were damaged by severe winds. A tree is just a tree, but the rubble was a home.”

The Rubicon Team remained in the area and assisted with clean up for several days. “We were only there for six days of work and only made a tiny dent in the amount of work that still needs to be done to help get that community back to some sort of normal,” she noted. 

Life-changing experience

Davey’s AmeriCorps experiences have been life-changing. “These experiences have been nothing short of amazing. Usually people complete one AmeriCorps term, but I am currently in my third year with Bur Oak. They have been incredibly supportive of my professional growth,” she said with gratitude. “I have met awesome people that are now lifelong friends, challenged myself and achieved goals I never would have thought were possible.” 

She added, “What I saw in Mayfield quickly humbles a person. The level of destruction and a community at a loss for how to rebuild, met with a great team of volunteers who gave up their holiday with their own families to help others in need, is very inspiring, and I am grateful that I get to be part of such a group.” 

AmeriCorps and Team Rubicon care about their volunteers. “Both of these groups care about their people,” she noted. “They care about ensuring proper training and taking care of others. I will carry the same mentality and values in both my personal and professional life.”

Volunteer opportunities

Davey encouraged others to become involved with the AmeriCorps program. “I would strongly recommend anyone who is interested in an AmeriCorps program to apply. They are a great way to gain experience and training in many fields. They usually have a living stipend and an education award. An education award is an amount of money that can be used to pay off student loans or be put towards future tuition or other trainings or certifications. Most, if not all, states have some sort of AmeriCorps program, so they could be a great way to travel to new areas. The list of positive opportunities is endless.” 

Volunteer opportunities can include full or part-time commitments. “AmeriCorps positions are called terms. There are 11-month, six-month and three-month terms, but will vary by individual program. Each term has a general hour requirement, so depending on the program it can range from part-time to full-time. I have completed two 11-month terms that were full-time (40 hours/week) and am currently a part-time member and work 10 hours a week. Many programs can be flexible.” 

Davey encourages others to become AmeriCorps members.  She concluded, “This has been a super positive experience for me!”

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