Earth Team Volunteers
The Earth Team Volunteer Program is part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Federal Government’s lead agency for conserving natural resources on private lands. Everyone who serves on the Earth Team plays an important role in keeping NRCS’ long-standing commitment to working with people to protect and conserve natural resources.
Featured 2014 Volunteers
Yulizza Henao Barragan
Yulizza is a Civil Engineering student (senior) at Western Kentucky University (WKU) and she's a volunteer in the NRCS office in Bowling Green. She heard about the Earth Team Volunteer Program through a Hispanic Festival at WKU last fall. Now she helps the staff at the NRCS office with AutoCAD work and surveying out in the field. "I see myself becoming a structural design engineer so my work experience with NRCS is an asset to my resume for future career options," Yulizza said.
She is active in HOLAS (Hilltopper Organization of Latin American Students at WKU).
Marcus volunteered as part of the Experience Based Career Education program at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Kentucky. He volunteered in the Human Resources section of NRCS about six hours a week for three months.
Alysha is a senior at Morehead State University (MSU) where she is studying Agriculture Animal Science. She is earning college credit for volunteering with the Earth Team Volunteer Program. Alysha’s father is Tony Burnett, a supervisory natural resource manager with NRCS out of the Maysville work unit covering Bracken, Robertson, Mason, Fleming, Rowan, Lewis, Carter, Greenup, and Boyd counties. Tony encouraged Alysha to be a volunteer back in high school and the experience helped her gain experience and encouragement for pursuing a future career in conservation. Through her volunteer work, Alysha has learned to develop maps and assist with survey designs and construction on conservation practices. Alysha said, “I am gaining valuable knowledge and skills that will help me in the future.” She hopes to one day work for the NRCS but for now she will focus on school and enjoy her family and friends in her free time. She enjoys being outdoors where she can ride horses, hunt and fish.
Tessa Combs is a sophomore at Morehead State University (MSU) where she is studying agronomy. When she heard about the Earth Team Volunteer Program at a career fair at MSU, she knew it would be a great place to gain experience. It’s been only eight months since she started volunteering with NRCS and she’s been able to learn how to survey land, measure for ponds and spillways, apply several conservation practices related to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and use GPS equipment to mark fence lines and locations of watering facilities. Tessa has had the opportunity to visit farms and see the value of cover crops and no-till farming. “Combatting the degradation of natural resources is a great interest of mine and through the volunteer program I have been able to experience what it takes to work and excel in a career in conservation,” she said.
Tessa serves as the Recreation Committee Chair for the FFA Chapter at MSU. She loves riding horses and working in a greenhouse/nursery where she can enjoy the outdoors.
Featured 2013 Volunteers
Lowell and Pat Wagner
Lowell and Pat, Jackson county residents who volunteer in London, help monitor the Laurel County Chestnut research plot as part of the partnership between NRCS and The American Chestnut Foundation. During last year’s drought, they helped water the seedlings and closely tracked the progress of each one and entered their findings into the database. Their assistance has been invaluable in the restoration effort.
Melanie, James & Isabella Hall
Melanie, James and Isabella are Earth Team Volunteers in Laurel County and like the Wagners (above), they also helped plant the Laurel County Chestnut research plot. They assisted in planting, labeling and sheltering the trees. In addition, they assisted in Earth Day tree give aways by separating and bagging more than 5,000 tree seedlings which were distributed to every 5th grade student in the county. Their combined efforts helped the Laurel County Conservation District accomplish their goals in a fraction of the time it would have taken without them.
Shelby is a sophomore at Allen County Scottsville High School and the daughter of the District Conservationist based in the Scottsville office, Susan McPherson. Shelby has been volunteering two to four hours per week for more than two years. She helps with filing, copying, organizing the storage room, and miscellaneous tasks around the Allen County Conservation District office. Her favorite part of volunteering is meeting the landowners. She has learned that agriculture is the root of America. Shelby said, "I have been able to apply so much of everyday terms, logic and care for the Earth in my AP Environmental class." She added, "So many things I would have only read about in a book, like water tables, non-point pollution, and open canopies, if not working with mom."
Seth is currently serving as an Earth Team Volunteer in Knox County where he assists with archeological and cultural resources field reviews for the Wetland Reserve Program. He has also assisted with tree planting for the American Chestnut Reforestation Program. Seth also provides assistance to landowners and has been assisting with a soil health test plot to monitor the cover crop.
Seth grew up working on a family farm managed for agricultural production, wildlife and forestry management. He has always assisted with the labor and management of this operation so he has a strong work ethic, great technical abilities, and a good attitude when accepting new challenges. In addition to working with agriculture and making a difference for conservation, Seth is an avid cyclist, participating in local bicycle tour events. Among his many talents, he is also an accomplished musician, playing in a band that performs throughout the region.
4H students from Marshall County High School volunteered to help prepare for the 18th Annual Ag Field Day. The students set up tables and chairs and during the day they served as group leaders for the 4th graders that attended. They also served as helpers at some of the stops and handed out popcorn to all the kids.
Around 400 students and their teachers attended the Ag Field Day which is held at the Wavil Joseph Farm. Students rotate through nine stops – wildlife, a nutrition stop (food pyramid), bees, the Enviroscape (erosion and non-point source pollution), the River Table (effects of land practices on the flow of water), soybeans, livestock, soils, and grains (corn and wheat).
Hunter Ford graduated from Webster County High School in May of 2012 and three months later he became an Earth Team Volunteer in the Conservation District office. Hunter is from Clay, Kentucky and had never been around a farm until he started volunteering. Now he loves meeting new people and learning new skills like assisting the technicians with surveying.
Austin Martin is a student at Webster County High School and has been volunteering with the conservation district for 9 months through the schools agriculture department. He helps in the field with measuring grassed waterways and water control basins. Austin said he enjoys volunteering because, “I am able to spend time outdoors and be involved in farming.” He’s learning a lot about field work with the NRCS staff and said, “I’m learning about conservation measures while perfecting my skills with the laser level.” Austin plans to attend Murray State University and focus on Agriculture construction.
Featured 2012 Volunteers
Heather Eblen, Webster County
Heather Eblen started volunteering in the Webster County Conservation District office in August of 2011. As a member of the Future Farmers of America (FFA), Heather heard about the opportunity to volunteer with the Webster County Conservation District through her FFA teacher and soon after that became an Earth Team Volunteer for NRCS. When in the office, Heather files and assembles case file folders/contracts for NRCS. She also assists with receptionist duties. Her favorite moment as a volunteer has been participating in Youth-Ag Safety Day where she has the opportunity to be outside all day with fourth graders. She also enjoys assisting Mike Andrews, the lead district conservationist, with conservation education activities and demonstrations. Heather volunteered a total of 406 hours in 2011 and has volunteered 132 hours in 2012. The leadership in the office, great working atmosphere, and valuable job experience is what keeps her coming back.
Caroline Benko-Meyer, Pulaski County
On April 17, 2012, Joe Montgomery, District Conservationist, presented Caroline Benko-Meyer with a certificate of appreciation for her volunteer service to the NRCS office and Pulaski County Conservation District. Caroline became an Earth Team Volunteer in December of 2011. She is originally from Portage, Indiana but she did an internship in the Plant Material Center in New York and became very interested in the work that NRCS does day in and day out. The Earth Team Volunteer Program seemed like a natural fit for Carline and her love of conservation. Her volunteer duties consist of administrative support, assisting with EQIP ranking and pre-rankings, assisting landowners with farm maps and talking with customers who come in for information on programs. Just recently, Caroline made her first WHIP farm visit to check out a native warm season grass management practice called strip disking. She verified with the participant that one third of the field had been stripped disked according to the contract for payment and took an “after” photo. The farm visit is (so far) one of her favorite moments as an Earth Team Volunteer. When asked what keeps her coming back, Caroline simple said, “I like what I’m doing”.
Courtney Elder, Daviess County
Courtney Elder is an Earth Team Volunteer for the Owensboro Service Center located in Daviess County, Kentucky. Courtney is receiving her Earth Team Volunteer Certificate of Appreciation from Dwayne Sandefur, NRCS District Conservationist, for the Owensboro Service Center. Also pictured is Jeff Rice, Chairman of the Daviess County Conservation District. Jeff also serves as the State President of the Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts. Courtney has been assisting the Owensboro Service Center team with surveying EQIP-MRBI practices.
Cindy Sanders, State Office - Lexington, KY
Cindy Sanders is no stranger to the Earth Team Volunteer Program. She has been volunteering as time allows for 16 years. She is the wife of Jeff Sanders, the State Resource Conservationist for NRCS in Lexington. Cindy volunteers from 4-10 hours a week in the State Office Administrative Services section. Her work allows the staff time to address other workload issues as she spends her time converting files to PDF, organizing, filing, and answering phones. In other volunteer positions, Cindy has created websites, assisted with hosting banquets, and visited schools for educational outreach where she dressed up as Ruby Raindrop! Her favorite volunteer opportunities as an Earth Team Volunteer have been working with Envirothons. Cindy says as long as Jeff works, she'll continue to volunteer.
Jason Combs, Graves County
Earth Team Volunteer Jason Combs is a member of the Wetlands Reserve Program Team located in the Mayfield Service Center. Tasked with a variety of duties, he has taken lead on the review of all easements for tree survivability on established acres. Presently, he has completed reviews on 35% of the easements. While in the field, he delineates several plots throughout the easement, counting the trees and marking the plot location with a waypoint before he compiles the data into a map with an overall percentage of tree survival for the easement. As a member of the Team, he is also assisting with on site evaluations and monitoring of easements. “Whatever the job, Jason is willing to help,” stated Donna Gilland, WRP Team Coordinator, “It’s great to have him on the Team!”
Kyler Heady, Webster County
Kyler Heady, Earth Team Volunteer in Dixon, Kentucky, became an Earth Team Volunteer in August of 2011. He is from a small town in the southwest corner of Webster County called Blackford. He became a CO-OP student for the Webster County Conservation District through his local high school. He found out through the CO-OP program about becoming a NRCS Earth Team volunteer. Kyler stays busy with school and doing lawn care around Dixon, but he still finds time to volunteer in the conservation district office. He is very helpful to the staff in assisting in construction checks, survey and layout of conservation practices, measuring fence, and assembling engineering folders for contracts. Kyler is getting amazing work experience through the volunteer program and making an impact on conservation at the same time. He enjoys this time of year when many districts are giving away free tree seedlings. Kyler said, “I enjoy seeing how happy people are to receive these trees. I also really enjoy learning from our conservation technicians as well as meeting different farmers in the community.” Kyler has volunteered over 450 hours since he became a volunteer.
Louis Graves III, Fayette County
Charles Farmer, Lead District Conservationist, presents a plaque to Louis Graves III for his efforts as a Earth Team Volunteer. Louis helped in the surveying and designing of several conservation practices in Fayette, Scott and Jessamine counties. He is a student at Bluegrass Community and Technical College and is pursuing a degree in natural resource management.