Story last updated at 8/5/2009 - 12:29 pm
Editor's note: This is part of a series of essays by current and former AmeriCorps volunteers serving in Southeast Alaska.
I am one of the last graduates from Sheldon Jackson College. I graduated with a four-year degree in Outdoor Leadership just after turning the sweet age of 21. My hard-working parents flew all the way from our hometown in Anchorage to take that priceless picture of me with my cap and gown clutching onto my hard earned diploma. When all was said and done, they popped the big question: "So, Ashley dear, how are you going to apply your degree to the real world? When are you moving back to Anchorage?" They were pretty legit questions, but to tell the truth, I didn't know and I still don't know the answers. All I knew was that I was definitely not ready to leave the capital city of Juneau. No way. Too beautiful.
So, with my family strongly urging me to pack what little bags I had and hop on the same flight with them back to Anchorage to start a career, and my heart being open to the moment, you could see what type of pickle I was in. But, like every movie, it ended happily and I stayed in the city with more trails than roads. I didn't know what was to become of me with this giant leap of faith and I found myself homeless, and jobless, living in a tent on the beach. I thought to myself, what better way to transition after four years of college than to work for free! So, sure enough, I got in touch with SAGA and signed myself up for an 11 month term of AmeriCorps.
My parents, you see, strongly believe that I should put my hard earned degree to use and that I should get paid good money for the things I know, my work ethic, and how I apply myself. This is all good and true. However, after four years of worrying about money, bills, and how I was going to pay for breakfast and books, I was yearning for a break from Mr. Green Bill. I wanted so badly to remember who I was before money controlled my decisions, mind, and ultimately my life.
AmeriCorps was just the ticket. I just graduated on Friday from an 11-month term as a Connections member with SAGA/AmeriCorps. I was placed at Discovery Southeast, a non-profit organization that seeks to connect people to nature. I piloted an Ocean Enrichment Program at Gastineau Elementary School on Douglas Island where I taught K-2 students about their coastal environment; I was an assistant naturalist for the elementary schools hands-on nature education Nature Studies Program taking 3rd-5th graders outside into their backyard on hikes; I did Outdoor Explorers Camp with kids this summer and took them to places most of them have never been. And, I made my parents proud by putting my Outdoor Leadership degree to use.
Discovery Southeast's mission is so incredible that I am still putting in hours even after my term because Southeast Alaska needs this non-profit more than anything. Take a look at the youth today completely surrounded by technology. My nine-year-old niece has an iPhone! My brother told me once that he would rather be inside playing Xbox than carving the fresh pow pow even if I bought him a lift ticket. This famous quote from Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods says it better than I can: "I like to be inside because that's where all the electrical outlets are." Discovery Southeast's mission is to connect people back with nature and pull the plug on this problem. I have spent over 1900 service hours fixing this problem.
The SAGA and AmeriCorps Connection program has been an amazing and incredibly powerful experience for me and I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Former AmeriCorps volunteer Ashley Saupe is still living in a tent on the beach. She now works for Gastineau Guiding full time as a trail guide.