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NRCS Employees Who Started as Earth Team Volunteers

NRCS Employees Who Started as Earth Team Volunteers

by Jan M. Klaus, State Earth Team Volunteer Coordinator
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Hays, Kansas

Last year, 2010, marks the 25th anniversary of the Earth Team (ET) volunteer program, and Kansas Natural Resources Conservation Service (an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) looks back at some of the program’s accomplishments. The inception of the ET volunteer program on April 25, 1985, was a result of expanding NRCS services by using volunteer time, talent, and energy to facilitate the NRCS mission–Helping People Help the Land.

“NRCS in Kansas is proud of the many dedicated ET volunteers who have committed their time and talents in conserving and protecting the soil, water, and wildlife in their communities across Kansas over the past 25 years,” said Eric B. Banks, NRCS Kansas State Conservationist, Salina. Since 1985 approximately 16,518 private citizens in Kansas have donated over 479,262 volunteer hours.

The ET volunteer program offers an opportunity for individuals to obtain a sense of accomplishment by contributing their time and talent to help protect the natural resources in their communities. Many others are volunteering to gain hands-on experience with the agency in hopes of achieving aspirations of being hired on as a fellow NRCS employee. The agency prides itself in taking the time to expose and train volunteers on the wide variety of fields pertaining to conservation of our natural resources.

Listed below are several Kansas NRCS employees who learned about the agency as a volunteer.

Rita Schartz (on right) poses with DistrictManager Zoe Staub.

Rita Schartz (on right) poses with District Manager Zoe Staub.

Rita Schartz, District Conservationist, St. John Field Office, Kansas, first started as an ET volunteer in Watkinsville, Georgia, 1998 to 1999. She helped compile a database of wetland plants and commercial sources where the plants could be purchased. Both NRCS and the Resource Conservation and Development Councils (RC&D) were working toward protecting wetlands and developing a wetland educational site. Rita stated that her volunteer experience provided her insight into the wide variety of environmental projects worked on by NRCS and RC&D. Her first NRCS position was as a soil conservationist at the Iola (Kansas) Field Office, where she concentrated on working with employees to educate them on carbon sequestration. Rita’s volunteer experience made her aware of the NRCS and RC&D relationship and their missions.

Jody Gienger, Soil Scientist, Central Great Plains Soil Survey Region (MO5), Salina, Kansas, volunteered at the St. Francis (Kansas) Field Office from 2000 to 2002. She helped in the office by organizing conservation folders, filing, assembling a range plant identification booklet, flagging a pit pond with the technician, and assisting soil scientists and the geologist when they were out in the field. She also attended an irrigation-scheduling workshop and rangeland field days. Her volunteer experience provided her insight into the many different disciplines of the agency, and it was during this time she learned that soil scientists get to do a variety of work and to spend more time outdoors. Her first job was as a soil scientist student trainee in Hays Area Office.

Jody Gienger, (3rd from right) explainsthe effects of erosion using the rainfall simulator.

Jody Gienger, (3rd from right) explains the effects of erosion using the rainfall simulator.
Justin Kneisel in the days he served as an NRCSEarth Team volunteer.

Justin Kneisel in the days he served as an NRCS Earth Team volunteer.

Justin Kneisel, District Conservationist, El Dorado, Kansas, first started as an ET volunteer in the Hiawatha (Kansas) Field Office, 1991 to 1994. He helped survey, make maps, file, and assemble folders, and input data into the computer. His volunteer experience enabled him to achieve his career ambitions with NRCS. Justin stated that he became acquainted with the agency’s mission and some of the staff during his tour as a volunteer and a While Actually Employed (WAE) employee. He felt this relationship and exposure to the agency provided him with a successful background to be selected for the student trainee program leading him toward his career as a soil conservationist and later a district conservationist. He was able to see conservation planning in action, and later go back and observe the positive effects on the resources. Justin stated that one of his favorite things to do was drive by some of the fields he worked on 19 years ago and still see the functioning practice he helped to install.

Jamie Holopirek, District Conservationist, Greensburg Field Office, Kansas, started as an ET volunteer at the LaCrosse (Kansas) Field Office in 2001. He assisted the soil conservationist with surveying and taking surveying notes. As a volunteer, he gained experience in the total station set-up. He used this information to survey an agricultural-waste facility. His first position as an NRCS employee was as a soil conservationist at the Concordia (Kansas) Field Office where he received technical training in the field from two very good soil conservation technicians. Jamie’s volunteer experience exposed him to the type of work he would be overseeing in his future with NRCS.

Jamie Holopirek (right) thanks Robert Mosier.

Jamie Holopirek (right) thanks Robert Mosier.
Rita Schartz (on right) poses with DistrictManager Zoe Staub.

Jeremiah Schutz sets up the laser level.

Jeremiah Schutz, Soil Conservation Technician, South Hutchinson Field Office, Kansas, started in Nebraska in 2004 volunteering at the Omaha (Nebraska) Field Office on his days off from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. He created planning maps, digitized watershed boundaries for the NRCS civil engineer, and completed farm and tract reconstitutions. His work helped increase efficiency of the field office operations and conservation planning. He provided NRCS employees assistance in applying conservation on the land. His volunteer experience provided him a better understanding of the NRCS projects and programs. A highlight he enjoyed was creating design maps where he would overlay engineering designs on digital orthophotography in ArcView to reference the locations of dam sites for landowners. He was hired as a WAE which turned into a two-year temporary position as soil conservation technician working in Lancaster and Cass Counties, Nebraska. As a WAE, he worked with the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) Team in Syracuse, Nebraska, to update and create all the WRP toolkit folders for the entire state.

Michael Clover, District Conservationist, Kingman, Kansas, served as an ET volunteer in Medford, Oklahoma, in 1999 and 2000. He assisted the soil conservation technician with layout and check out of conservation practices primarily in the summers. His volunteer experience provided him with hands-on training of how conservation practices fit into different situations. He was eventually hired by NRCS in Woodward, Oklahoma, as a soil conservationist. Mike continues to demonstrate his support for the ET program by providing training to new volunteers and recognizing the importance of their contributions.

Mike Clover (right) is demonstrating how to use a survey rod to a volunteer.

Mike Clover (right) is demonstrating how to use a survey rod to a volunteer.
Nick Strawn poses as a size reference in a large washout in Nebraska.

Nick Strawn poses as a size reference in a large washout in Nebraska.

Nicholas Strawn, Soil Conservation Technician, Manhattan, Kansas, was an ET volunteer for the Kinsley (Kansas) Field office in 2002 and 2003. He was trained to map in Arcview, write conservation plans, and stake, survey, and checkout terrace and waterway designs. Nick stated that one of the greatest advantages of the ET program was it allowed him to get his foot in the door to work for NRCS. He saw the benefits of terrace and waterway implementation and wanted to be a part of these conservation efforts.

The primary purpose of the ET program is to expand NRCS services by using volunteer time, talent, and energy to help accomplish the NRCS mission. However, many volunteers have found their true calling as an NRCS employee while donating their time to conserve and protect our natural resources. If you are interested in contributing to the volunteer movement or just want to see how our agency delivers our mission, please visit your local NRCS office or conservation district office to learn more about being an ET volunteer. The office is located at your local USDA Service Center (listed in the telephone book under United States Government or on the Internet at offices.usda.gov). More information is also available on the Kansas Web site at www.ks.nrcs.usda.gov.

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