The Shawnee National Forest was recently recognized with a prestigious 2011-2012 Eastern Region Honor Award due to a partnership with University of Illinois Extension Service and the Americorps Volunteers in Service to America, according to a release from the Forest Service.
Since 2010, the Shawnee National Forest has been building a unique partnership with the U of I Extension Service and the VISTA Program. The organizations have helped the forest with:
- Conservation education programing
- Offering more service learning
- Building new partnerships
- Seeking out grant opportunities
- Strengthening internal capacities that support not only the Forest’s financial and staff resources, but the greater Southern Illinois region as a whole in helping to make these efforts sustainable for the long-term.
Two years ago, the Shawnee NF was asked to be a pilot and learning forest for the Community Engagement through Recreation and Tourism program, and a direct outcome of this initiative was the hosting of five AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers each year. Although there have been many successes resulting from CERT, the Shawnee National Forest’s VISTA program, called “Shawnee Outdoors,” stands above the rest.
Some of the projects that have proven successful due to the AmeriCorps VISTAs include:
- Linking partners and volunteers to local, state and national efforts, such as the 2011 flood response, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, National Trails Day, National Public Lands Day efforts, and many more;
- Recruiting and engaging hundreds of college students and community members to work within traditional outreach programs, environmental education and service learning programs;
- Connecting interested citizens to the Forest through the establishment of a not-for-profit Friends of the Shawnee National Forest organization, supporting the Forest and serving the greater southern Illinois region;
- Developing new outdoor educational resources, material and programs for the Forest while also identifying community partners to expand education programs at schools in Southern Illinois communities. As of early 2011, the VISTA program increased the environmental education program delivery by an additional 50 percent, reaching over 400 teachers and 6,000 students;
- Supporting the Heritage Program of the Shawnee National Forest to work with a number of community organizations to establish Preserve America communities across the region. Other new projects resulting from such efforts relating to the Heritage Program include Dirt Detectives and a Cairo history and art program called a Stitch in Time Project where students learn their local history through living history dramatizations, art and science activities.
Since the arrival of the first VISTAs in July 2010, up through August 2012, a total of eleven volunteers, each of whom have dedicated themselves for one full year of service, have donated a total of 13,500 hours, which is equivalent to six full time employees. In turn, each have recruited a total of 553 new volunteers and have also worked with more than 800 individuals in total, leveraging 8,460 volunteer hours. Program-wise, the VISTAs have developed over 46 new programs, which have provided contact opportunities with 379 teachers and over 5,762 students. Cumulatively, this group of talented young professionals has leveraged over $2,000 in cash resources as well. All total, the monetary value of the contributions to southern Illinois through the VISTA program is equivalent to over $500,000.
Page 2 of 2 - Because of the immensely positive results of the program, the Shawnee National Forest was recently recognized with a prestigious 2011-2012 Eastern Region Honor Award. The Forest joins with the following partners in celebrating the accomplishments of the achievement. Recipients include Jody Johnson, University of Illinois Extension director; Pat York, USFS; Mary McCorvie, USFS; Sue Hirsch, USFS; Kelly Pearson, USFS; Cathy Slover, USFS retiree; Eraina Nossa, VISTA; Elizabeth Dorgay, VISTA; Guy Schmale, VISTA; Mark Blean, VISTA; Susannah Munson, VISTA; Kaysie Cox, VISTA; Lindsay Agin, VISTA; and Ryan Martin, VISTA.