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MassLIFT-AmeriCorps: Stories from Our Volunteers

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See the video of MassLIFT-AmeriCorps' 2011-12 year

See the MassLIFT-AmeriCorps Great Stories page

Sarah WellsSarah Wells served for two years as Regional Conservationist with the North Quabbin Regional Landscape Partnership.   She studied Natural Resources and Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation at UMass, graduating in 2010.  Sarah has been hired by Mount Grace to take over the Land Conservation Associate position from Jen Smith, who will manage our Farm Conservation Program part-time as she transitions to running Crimson & Clover Farm located at the Northampton Community Farm.

In my time with the North Quabbin Regional Landscape Partnership, I hope I’ve helped to re-energize the Executive Committee. When I first began facilitating the Executive Committee meetings, I was frustrated. The meetings had relatively strong attendance, but there wasn’t much dialogue or cross-pollination of ideas.

Beaver lodge at 1000 Acre SwampSarah Wells with Bill Rose at the Haughton PropertyDave Small leads a walk on the Haughton property, site of an NQRLP project Sarah helped complete.

Photos from the Haughton Project, which Sarah helped complete while serving with the Partnership.

Initially, I think I was worried that if I didn’t jam-pack the agenda with interesting, relevant content, I’d be wasting the time of the busy Executive Committee members. Fortunately, I’ve become a more seasoned Regional Conservationist and a better planner/facilitator in my two years in this program. Crafting a smart agenda that transitions easily and allows time for actual discussion is a skill that’s often overlooked. It takes time, talent, and preparation to run a productive meeting. It’s not enough to have good attendance without having strong participation. The value in partnership comes from communication, which by definition should be two-sided. By inviting Partners to meetings and asking them to just listen for two hours, I was reducing their capacity to contribute.

I have an infinite amount of respect for the way Jay Rasku coordinates the Partnership. Through his mentorship, I am a much stronger conservationist. He helped me develop the facilitation skills to channel my initial frustration into a plan for boosting participation. At the past two executive committee meetings, there was true partnership. In March, we experimented with a group mapping exercise to determine new focus areas for collaborating within the Partnership’s region. This exercise asked the Partners to see their organization’s goals through the lens of belonging to the Partnership. People moved around, talked to each other, and truly participated. As a result, we found four areas of significant overlap. Groups in two of the focus areas are actively collaborating on landscape-scale conservation projects. These projects will, if funded, conserve upwards of 5,000 acres. 

In my mind, the best part of the Partnership is that it brings groups and individuals with common interests to the same table. Instead of talking in circles around each other and competing for the same relatively small pool of available resources, we can collaborate and strategize together. The Regional Conservation position is so powerful because it has the potential to shake things up, help Partners recommit, and find new ways to enhance the status quo. The MassLIFT program has increased the capacity of the Partnership to organize effective outreach and engage in landscape-scale conservation. In turn, a strong, coordinated North Quabbin Regional Landscape Partnership benefits the entire region. - Sarah Wells

MassLIFT-AmeriCorps' 2012 service year begins September 11, 2012 with an orientation at Harvard Forest.  New partners for 2012 include the Buzzards Bay Coalition, the Connecticut River Watershed Concil, Essex County Greenbelt Association, and Hilltown Land Trust.  You can find more program details on our MassLIFT page.