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Earth Team Volunteers | 2011 Awards

2011 Kansas Earth Team Volunteer Awards

National Award Winners

Chief’s Cup (held by Eric B. Banks, State Conservationist)

Eric Banks holding the Chief's CupIn fiscal year (FY) 2011 Kansas had four area, one state office (SO) and a state volunteer coordinator. These six coordinators managed the Earth Team (ET) Volunteer Program (Program) for 110 offices in Kansas.

FY 2011 Accomplishments:

  • 100 percent of 110 offices reported the use of volunteers
  • A total of 37,038.75 hours of volunteer time was captured in FY 2011
  • A total of 3,513 volunteers donated their time
  • The state coordinator was appointed to the National Training Committee
  • The Kansas Apprentice Program (KAP) was used to recruit four apprentices
  • Five Earth Team Volunteer success stories were submitted and published in the Earth Team Connection Newsletter
  • Area Coordinators trained the field staff in their area on the importance and benefits of using volunteers in their offices by speaking at area meetings and making personal visits to field offices
  • The state and area coordinators each conducted a minimum of five field office reviews to ensure the Program is managed properly within each office
  • The state office coordinator hosted a volunteer celebration for state office volunteers to celebrate National Volunteer Week
  • Area coordinators collected nominations for state and national awards for all award categories—all nominations were recognized by the State Conservationist with a letter and keepsake
  • The state coordinator and an area coordinator served as committee members of the State Recruitment Team to recruit volunteers using a Kansas-developed ET display

NRCS Earth Team (ET) Volunteer Coordinator Award
Jan Klaus, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Hays, Kansas

Jank Klaus presenting and Earth Team awards to Tracey MartinIn FY 2011, as the State Earth Team (ET) Volunteer Coordinator for Kansas, Jan was responsible for the guidance and management of the ET Volunteer Program for 95 field offices (FOs), four area offices (AO), the state office (SO), the Plant Materials Center, and nine resource conservation and development (RC&D) offices. Jan has served as the State ET Coordinator for four years.

Five ET area coordinators (ACs) assist Jan. Quarterly, she reviews with the ACs their accomplishments and transfers ideas and information. She feels the face-to-face meetings keep her coordinators enthusiastic and passionate about the program.

The State Conservationist of Kansas fully supports the ET Program and sends a clear message to the field staff of his high expectation on the use of volunteers. Kansas leads the way with 3,418 volunteers and 36,414.75 hours and 100 percent office participation. Kansas has been leading the nation in the total number of volunteers and the total number of hours for the past several years.

Jan currently serves on the National Training Committee. She assists in identifying training needs for other state coordinators and shares Kansas ideas and tools to promote and implement the ET Program.

Handling a statewide program comes with challenges. This year Kansas, along with many other states, saw their numbers drop due to office closures. Educating others about “Why volunteers are important” is one of the greatest challenges Jan faces. She takes the time to seek out non-believers of the volunteer program and helps them understand its benefits and possibilities.

NRCS Earth Team Partnership Award Nomination–Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D)
Central Prairie RC&D Council, Great Bend, Kansas

Central Prairie RC&D staff and volunteersThe Central Prairie Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Council is recognized for its use of volunteers and its varied projects.

The Central Prairie Honor Flights is a project that the RC&D works with the National Honor Flights organization. The purpose is to give World War II veterans the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. at no cost to see the national monument erected in their honor. This program was developed to honor the veterans for their sacrifices and the time they served our country during World War II.

This year, three flights carried 233 veterans and 182 guardians to the Nation’s capital. Through this ongoing project, a total of 1515 veterans and their guardians on 15 flights have visited Washington, D.C. RC&D fundraisers and donations make the trips possible. Volunteers must pay their own way.

Upon returning from the trip, a designated group honors the veterans. These events bring recognition to the men and women who served our country. Family members say this trip has allowed the veterans to discuss things they have never discussed with anyone until now. Veterans have the opportunity to not only see the memorial built in their honor but to meet with others who served and understand because they had the same experiences. The trip for some is also a time of emotional healing for what they experienced so many years ago.

Other projects of the RC&D are:

  • Kansas Wildlife Feeding the Hungry partnering with the Kansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry Program works with local deer processors.
  • Potential Brownfield sites are located by volunteers.
  • A revolving loan program that allows people to start a business or expand their business. Twelve jobs were created this year.

In fiscal year 2011, the Central Prairie RC&D made use of 419 volunteers logging a total of 6,419.5 hours.

Kansas Award Winners

NRCS Earth Team (ET) Group Volunteer Award Nomination
Neosho County People’s Garden Group, Erie, Kansas

Volunteers in the Neosho County People's GardenWith the help of several volunteers from the local community, the Neosho County USDA Service Center created a People’s Community Vegetable Garden in 2011. They like to call it “Compost Happens.” Over the past several years the office added curb appeal to the front of the building with a small flower container garden. The volunteers thought they could do more for the community, so they contacted the building owner about planting a vegetable garden. They emphasized the link between gardening and healthy lifestyles and a key component of educating our youth through the use of a garden.

With the owner’s permission, they started planning and locating a proper spot for the garden. It was decided that a raised bed would work best, plus, it would be easier for the elderly to harvest the vegetables. Railroad ties were donated and a local business man and farmer/cattleman donated and delivered 10 tons of soil. The garden has a compost pile that will be used throughout the year.

This first summer the volunteers planted tomatoes, green peppers, banana peppers, yellow squash, zucchini squash, green beans and okra. A local greenhouse and the office staff donated the plants and seeds. The district manager for the Erie County Conservation District, watered, picked, and distributed the harvest to 15 needy individuals.

Neosho County People's GardenTheir goal remains to work with the Master Gardener program in Neosho County and the Erie Chartered High School Green Team. The Master Gardener program taught by Kansas State Research and Extension specialists and the local extension agent will provide 40-50 hours of training to the office personnel and this knowledge will be shared with the local community. The Green Team is an interactive educational program that empowers students and teachers to help the environment through waste reduction, recycling, composting, and energy conservation and pollution prevention.

Looking ahead, the volunteers envision another garden such as a strawberry patch. Five volunteers contributed 56 hours of their time to the People’s Community Vegetable Garden.

NRCS Field Office Earth Team Field Office Award Nomination
Howard Field Office, Howard, Kansas

Howard Field Office staffThe Howard Field Office, Elk County, is nestled at the base of the Flint Hills Region in southeast Kansas. This small, productive field office works hard to provide leadership to the area producers. The staffs’ goal is to put environmentally sound conservation on the ground with the vision of productive lands and a healthy environment. The field office represents both Elk and Chautauqua Counties. This task would be daunting if not for the help of an extremely active pair of conservation districts and the support of local communities and volunteers. These partnerships promote the mission of NRCS which is “Helping People Help the Land.”

In addition to the conservation districts, the NRCS partners with the Kansas State Research and Extension, and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) to administer a wide variety of educational public service and local outreach programs. Those services can range from “town hall” type meetings to large-scale tours. One meeting topic was about the Kansas Smoke Management Plan. A tour highlighted applied management for a large-scale county livestock operation.

Another high priority of this partnership is the outreach programs used for the education of grade school age children. A local educational event called the Water Festival will reach at least 75 fifth graders. Numerous presenters at this festival will teach many different aspects of water conservation.

Kids like the popular outside program “Day on the Farm.” This successful statewide program is promoted by the Kansas conservation districts and has spawned a flood of local volunteers. This past year kids visited 15 learning stations ranging from chicken egg development to milk cows, tractor safety, water conservation, and wildlife, just to mention a few.

Volunteers play a critical role in locally led conservation. Without volunteers, community support would be minimal. This is evident in joint outreach and educational events such as the Prescribed Burn workshops and the Natural Resources Conservation workshops. Local volunteers lend services and expertise to allow producers the opportunity to hone their skills from the safe application of prescribed fire and pesticides to plant identification and proper grazing techniques.

Active volunteerism is the surest way to guarantee the success of any conservation effort. One hundred and twenty-seven (127) volunteers logged 961 hours through the Howard Field Office in 2011.

NRCS Employee Earth Team Award Nomination
Alex Miller, Rangeland Management Specialist, Westmoreland, Kansas

Alex Miller give a presentation to grade schoolersAlex writes prescribed burn plans and provides technical assistance to landowners conducting burns to improve their rangelands. Some area landowners have taken an interest in patch-burn grazing systems to improve their upland, ground-nesting bird habitat. This system requires good preparation, a burn plan, and technical assistance on the fire line.

A Kansas landowner who lives in Missouri was interested in patch burning to provide nesting habitat and to improve forbs’ diversity on his property. In preparation for the burn, the landowner mowed firebreaks with the intent to patch burn early in the spring to favor wildlife-friendly forbs.

Alex MillerThe landowner teaches dentistry at the University of Missouri in Kansas City making it difficult to be on the land during the work week. He scheduled to take off work several Mondays and Fridays during March 2011; but the weather was not cooperating, and the burn was likely to be cancelled. However, on Saturday the weather was favorable, so Alex decided to volunteer to help with the prescribed burn. The burn went well, and the group safely completed the patch burn. The landowner mentions how the quail on his grasslands are doing well due to the patch burn. Forbs’ diversity also increased because of the mosaic grazing/burning patterns created by the fire. Alex followed-up and sees improvement in the wildlife habitat.

Alex used the help of the landowner and coordinated with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) to obtain equipment needed to carry out the prescribed burns. To complete the burn, Alex discovered he needed help and convinced two co-workers to donate their time and invited KDWPT employees to assist them.

Alex is personally involved and uses annual leave to help out with the Wabaunsee County Conservation District’s water festival where he presented a session on the stream trailer to six groups of 5th and 6th graders.

NRCS Earth Team Individual Award Nomination
Samantha Wade, Erie, Kansas

Samantha WadeSamantha Wade began volunteering for the Erie Field Office two years ago when she turned fourteen years of age. She helps with the educational programs, with handout material, and with many field days and office activities.

While attending the annual Bankers Award meeting she noticed that many of the grade school children were becoming restless. She asked if there were any activities that NRCS could provide to keep the children occupied. This would become her first project: to create an educational packet to be handed to children when they attended any conservation district program.

Samantha also assists the conservation district with their field days and tours. She has drawn the signs, made copies of the presentation materials, and handed out the information during the field day and tours. If a meal is served, she helps before, during, and after.

The conservation district has a stream trailer—Samantha set it up after it was delivered to the Neosho County Fair and had it ready for the first demonstration.

Within the local conservation office, Samantha has done filing, copying, organizing the storage room, and taken pictures during tours, programs, and conservation activities.

This year Samantha joined the Green Team at the Erie Chartered High School. The Green Team is an interactive educational program that empowers students and teachers to help the environment through waste reduction, recycling, composting, energy conservation, and pollution prevention. Samantha is presently assisting with gathering of used paper and cardboard within the school.

Samantha’s project is to use 55-gallon plastic barrels as holding bins for discarded plastic water and pop bottles at any school functions. Her green day project will be using some of the plastic bottles to make them into birdhouses and feeders to be shown at the school, field days, and the county fair. What is not used for the project will be taken to a recycle center.

Samantha learned about conservation and the wise use of our soil and water at a young age. She is practicing what she has been taught and hopes others will learn by watching her dedication to the wise use of our soil, water, air, plants, and animals.

NRCS Earth Team NACD Partnership Award Nomination
Wyandotte County Conservation District, Kansas City, Kansas

Eric Banks presenting award to Cheri MillerThe Wyandotte County Conservation District considers environmental education of the urban students a high priority. The majority of this county is urban land with a small percent of agricultural land. The children of Wyandotte County have little or no exposure to the environment around them. The conservation district sees this as an opportunity to provide programs and materials that can help create a connection to our local natural resources.

The district holds a Water Rally each spring at the local Boy Scout Camp. This year approximately 800 students, teachers, and parent chaperons attended. This activity is coordinated with the camp director and included 200 adult volunteers to help set up the area, teach classes, direct traffic, serve lunch, guide groups, and clean up. Board members, their family members, and friends all helped. Eleven public and private schools attended the Water Rally this year and divided into 30 class groups. Different topics presented included forestry, soils, geology, water quality, storm water management, climate, air quality, pastures, and wildlife habitat.

Budget and travel restrictions make it impossible for many of the public schools to attend the Water Rally. The district agreed to provide on-site training to some schools. The training is not as extensive as the Water Rally but is tailored to the school’s desires. Again, the teachers are provided with teacher packets that prepare them and the students for the material that will be presented. Fifteen different school presentations were made throughout the year involving as many as 150 to 300 students at several schools.

In making all of these presentations to schools, the district manager had to develop partnerships with other groups and organizations to help with this task. In order to give the students a quality experience, knowledgeable personnel were needed. Some of the groups that provided personnel are the Kansas City Zoo; F.L. Schlagle Environmental Library, Environmental Protection Agency, Kansas State Research and Extension Service; Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism; Kansas Ag Hall of Fame; Johnson County Stormwater Management; National Aeronautics and Space Administration; AmeriCorps; Natural Resources Conservation Service; and other conservation districts. A total of 41 presentations were given to support the programs of these organizations in return for their assistance in the district programs.

This past year’s budget for the district activities was reduced by 50 percent. The district faced the challenge of finding new funding sources. An example is making rain barrels and composting barrels available for use in the community. Some materials were donated to the district to help defer costs. People were asked for a donation for the barrels. This project brought in some income, promoted the savings of rain water, thus, reducing demand on city water systems, and reduced the amount of yard waste from going into the landfill system.

NRCS Earth Team Conservation District Manager Nomination
Tom Meek, Clay County Conservation District, Clay Center, Kansas

Tom MeekTom works as the District Manager for the Clay County Conservation District (CCCD). This northcentral county has three main resource concerns: water quality, soil erosion, and range health. Tom recognized early on that conservation issues can only be addressed with community buy-in and participation.

The district hosts several educational activities throughout the year. This year will be the 16th annual sixth grade water festival and the 7th annual fourth grade water festival. These water festivals are made possible by using volunteers from the Clay County area who keep the educational stations moving smoothly while the board members keep everyone well fed.

In the past, Tom has teamed up with different organizations in the community to present the different stations. He rotates the responsibility to groups like the public library, the landfill director, and retired teachers. He says it doesn’t take any arm twisting to get volunteers; you just have to ask them for their assistance. During presentations to the school kids, presenters often feel a renewed sense of the important role conservation plays in their community.

Tom MeekIn addition to making good use of the volunteers, Tom has volunteered over 58 hours in fiscal year 2011. Tom played a lead role in efforts to establish the Kansas Crossroads RC&D Council. Tom is a past president and is presently serving as a council member.

Tom also organizes several tours for county producers. Every year, the district sponsors a range tour to promote good range management practices. He asks volunteers to help with refreshments and to talk about their range management practices.

The district also focuses its efforts on soil conservation in cropland. This year, on his own farm, Tom planted 30 plots using 6 different cover crop treatments as part of a research project undertaken through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Stewardship Program with the assistance of Kansas State University. Without the volunteer help of local producers, board members, the NRCS, and Tom, these tours would not be possible.

Tom and the board also host a buffer tour to address the need for clean water above Milford Lake. On this tour, landowners volunteer their time and speaking abilities to share their own experiences with buffer strips. In addition to community volunteers, Tom partners with other agencies and groups that include the Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, the Kansas Forest Service, and the NRCS. He says they have also coordinated many efforts with the Milford Nature Center.

Tom is a proactive District Manager who stretches the districts dollars and efforts by using volunteers. By delegating responsibilities to those in the community, he gets more public “buy in” and helps NRCS achieve its conservation goals. This serves as a good model for the Conservation District/NRCS alliance.