P-CREW leaders take the spotlight before the crew arrives, after they return home and all while the night sky watches over. Jamie Hatch wrote a personal reflection from her crew leader experience and offered to share it here. Enjoy.
I grew up in a rural, economically depressed area of Upstate New York. While my dad was raised on a local farm, my mom was from Pittsburgh and I always dreamed of moving to a place where there was more opportunity and people didn’t know EVERYTHING about me. Like any graduating senior with a scholarship does, I ran out of there as soon as I could. I felt that I was on to bigger and better things that my small town could never offer me. I’ve spent the last 9 years moving from village, to town, to city, and finally to big city. As I’ve made these transitions, I’ve lost my connection to my rural upbringing.
When I heard about P-CREW, I thought, “This is the perfect program for me.” It combines my love for the outdoors with youth development, and it brings me back to my roots with the rural-urban connections. I had started my post-college career as a high school science teacher but quickly realized that the confines of the classroom were not for me. I felt stifled and wanted to take my students out into the real world to connect with what I felt truly mattered. Since leaving the classroom, I’ve developed an understanding and love of outdoor and environmental education which led me to the Sierra Institute and P-CREW.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect out of P-CREW, but I knew that it was going to be a challenge. Although I have a lot of experience working with teens as well as outside, I didn’t come into this with as much conservation experience as I felt I needed. I was a bit intimidated by the responsibility of working with a variety of project partners and making sure that we completed work up to their high standards. This singular focus was quickly erased when I pulled up to Sierra Institute in late May; I was greeted by dogs and hugs and invitations to hang out by my incredibly authentic new coworkers. Over the next few weeks of training, I got more and more excited about finally meeting the kids, I mean crew members, and getting started on the real stuff.
Session 1 feels like a blur now. In the moment, the challenges felt enormous and time seemed to stretch on forever. By the time the session ended and it was time for the crew members to graduate and go home, I couldn’t imagine my life without them. We had grown and learned so much together. After a whirlwind 4 days, it was time to do it all over again with Session 2. This feels like yesterday, but here I am sitting in the office wrapping up the entire summer. As I reflect on this experience, it’s hard to synthesize all that I’m thinking about; I’m a big ideas and lists kind of person, so I want to share what I’ve learned in a way that makes sense to me:
P-CREW definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone: This was the longest that I had worked and lived 24/7 with the same group of youth, and it stretched me as an environmental educator, a loving mentor, and as an outdoorswoman. I was constantly pushed into what I’ve grown to call my “challenge zone,” that space just outside my comfort zone where I learn and grow the most.
Teenagers have a lot to teach me: Every single crew member left an impression on me. Many of them were more thoughtful, bold, or knowledgeable than me and I was constantly amazed by their insights.
Conservation work is important and has a much larger impact than I realized: I learned so much from my co-leader, Patty, our project partners, and a variety of educational materials I used. I gained a much more profound understanding of the grand level of impact that every action has on this Earth. I was particularly moved by the connections between rural mountain and watershed communities to the downstream urban centers. If I wasn’t motivated to work to preserve our land and water for future generations, I sure am now.
Our bodies are capable of a lot: Having worked on a farm for the past year, I’ve done a good bit of physical labor. Nothing could prepare me for how tough P-CREW would be on my body and those of our crew. I watched as crew members started the session huffing and puffing their way up hills or lacking confidence in lifting large logs; in just a few short weeks they were running up the same hills and demonstrating how to use their legs when building enormous burn piles. It was particularly inspirational to watch the young women, who are often told their bodies are inferior and weak, develop confidence in their skills and strength.
People need to be loved: The most important lesson of all! I remember having a difficult conversation with a Session 1 crew member where we both shared some really personal stuff as well as a lot of tears. While we disagreed tremendously on most things (and I really do mean most things) we had developed a loving connection that was based on our shared human experience. So many of our crew members had experienced trauma, and some had not always been given the love and attention that they truly deserved. As a crew, it was our job to love on each other no matter what our backgrounds were. The most profound proof of this was at the end of Session 2 when a crew member was brought to tears by the prospect of leaving P-CREW. They quietly shared, “I have never felt so loved.” While our work on the trails and forests is important, I think it is the work on each other’s hearts and souls that leaves the deepest impact.
Jamie Hatch for Project Spotlight