BSWC Celebrates 10 Years: Read About Member Stories
In 2021, the Big Sky Watershed Corps program is celebrating 10 years of service! In the months to come, we’ll take a look back at what that service has looked like and reflect on how that service has impacted Montana’s waters, impacted our partners, and impacted our members. Stay tuned!
BSWC Service Impact:
Member Stories by Angela Davis
I can still remember when I got the call that I did not get the placement for Big Sky Watershed Corps. At the time I was working three jobs in Bozeman, Montana, one of them as a delivery driver, delivering wine all across Bozeman and Helena. I was in the big delivery van, it was a cold sunny day in October and I pulled over to listen to the voicemail explaining I hadn’t gotten the position. I remember thinking to myself, “well that’s it, I guess this is my life now”, working multiple remedial dead-end jobs that were only marginally satisfying, even on the best of days.
I moved to Montana in 2015 from northeast Florida where I had worked as an environmental scientist for a handful of years. I was so excited to move cross country and thought that with my educational background and experience in the field I’d land a job in no time. Boy was I wrong! I attempted to network and volunteered all over town to no avail. I attended the bi-annual Montana Watershed Coordination Council meeting with resumes ready but got nowhere. Attending the meeting felt like a bust, at the time, but this was where I was introduced to the Big Sky Watershed Corps for the first time. It seemed like everyone I talked to pointed me to the program. There was even an army of current members in attendance participating in the event’s poster session. I didn’t know it then, but my life would one day be deeply connected to this powerfully impactful program.
The Big Sky Watershed Corps (BSWC) began in 2011 with a small group of AmeriCorps members serving with local conservation organizations. Over the last ten years, Montana has watched as this program has grown from 10 members to 34 members serving all along the Clark Fork, the Yellowstone, the Musselshell, the Milk River, and everywhere in between. As we celebrate the ten-year anniversary of this service program we wanted to share the impact it’s had not only on our communities, waters, and lands but also on the AmeriCorps members who have served within it. Members like myself, Ethan Kunard, and Liz Shull.
Ethan served with the BSWC in 2013 & 2014. He found the program while looking for jobs in Montana and thought it would be a great opportunity to gain more experience in the watershed conservation world while honing his interest and skills for his future career path. And boy did it deliver! During his service terms, Ethan developed new skills and gained professional hands-on experience in conservation. But something else happened too. Ethan began to see how vital community engagement was with any kind of watershed work. Experiencing this first-hand changed how he viewed natural resource management; it was no longer a science separate from the community or the individuals it impacted but an inseparable partnership. This revelation ultimately led him to his recent position as Executive Director for Montana Watershed Coordination Council where he continues to serve watershed communities by connecting them to valuable resources and also to one another.
Ethan isn’t the only member to have changed because of his service term. Liz recently completed her second term of service with BSWC in November of 2020 as the BSWC Team Leader. I remember sitting in a local coffee shop with Liz discussing the program with her shortly after she had heard about it. Liz was frustrated searching for “her fit” in the conservation world. She knew she wanted to work in conservation but didn’t know where or even what kind of position to pursue. She did know that her current position in water rights wasn’t the right fit, so we talked about opportunities with BSWC. The BSWC program was a space for Liz, as she puts it, “to conduct some productive self-exploration.” She wanted to try it all and the BSWC is a great place for that! Liz described it this way, “The BSWC paved a path for me to figure out what I wanted to do while still getting things done.” Through Liz’s service, she gained more understanding about her own passions, gained confidence in her abilities, and gained a lot of great connections within the natural resource’s world in Montana. Today, Liz is doing work she loves and is proud to do, serving our nation’s vets as the Development Associate with Warriors and Quiet Waters.
While I didn’t get placed with BSWC that cold autumn day I did eventually find my place in the program and completed two terms of service in 2017 & 2018. At the start, BSWC was nothing more than a stepping stone to me. This was my gateway to my next environmental science gig. It was going to land me a job, like a real job where I made more than the meager biweekly living allowance I received as a member. I had no idea it would change my life and alter my career ambitions forever but that’s the thing about service. It changes people. It changes the people delivering a service, it changes those receiving the service, and in the case of BSWC, it also changes the lands and waters we all love.
While I’m still passionate about science and our environment I no longer consider myself a scientist and I no longer want a career as an environmental scientist. I’ve found something I love even more. For me, my journey with BSWC showed me the power of service, the impact an AmeriCorps program can have on people and places and after watching that for a bit I knew I wanted to help make that happen again and again, and again! I wanted to be a part of that; connecting people with opportunity and service, supporting the next member’s life-altering experience. That’s exactly what I do as the Program Manager within the Big Sky Watershed Corps program. I continue to serve our Montana communities by connecting them to energized AmeriCorps members eager to make a difference. My service term led me down a career path of continued service, just like it did for Ethan, Liz and so many others who have severed in the program and so many others who have yet to start their term, because you don’t complete nearly eleven months of service without changing and buying-in to the lasting impacts service can have on people and the places we love.