2013 Corpsmember of the Year, Jesse Roehm
Jesse Roehm understood at a very young age what it means to be a good environmental steward. Through many small acts, his family conveyed to him the importance of protecting nature and maintaining a small carbon footprint. He remembers helping his father cover their windows in shrink wrap every fall to reduce the amount of energy they consumed to heat their house in a suburb of Indianapolis. He remembers how he and his brother never watched TV or played videogames; they much preferred to spend their days tramping through the woods, digging in the dirt and fishing in the creek. As Jesse got a little older, the concept of environmental stewardship gained further clarity through his participation in the Boy Scouts. His Eagle Scout project involved spreading awareness about invasive species by writing for the newspaper, handing out information at community events, and leading an eradication project at a local park.
Jesse’s upbringing helped him appreciate the importance of community involvement and activism, but he feels that he started to lose sight of some of his values while he was in college. When he graduated from Indiana State University in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and international studies, Jesse decided he was ready to make some changes in his life. He wanted to find himself and reconnect with his beliefs, so he decided to devote a year to service.
“I’m not exactly sure how I initially heard about AmeriCorps. I was loosely considering doing the Peace Corps, but through research I found out that there were also domestic Corps. I thought that would be a better fit for me because I didn’t really think I was ready to commit two-and-a-half years to go abroad and leave family and friends,” said Jesse. “I knew I was interested in AmeriCorps, but there weren’t a whole lot of AmeriCorps options in Indiana and I had wanted to move out to Colorado just to kind of get away. I had spent my whole life in Indiana and I was looking to make a fresh start.”
As someone who loves to go skiing and backpacking, Jesse was lured by Colorado’s mountains. He already had several good friends in Colorado, so he knew that if he went there he would have a place to stay until he got on his feet. It wasn’t long after Jesse arrived in Denver that he found Mile High Youth Corps; an organization that focuses on community building, energy conservation and wilderness land management. MHYC seemed like a perfect fit for Jesse, so he soon dove headfirst into a 10-month-long AmeriCorps Leadership and Conservation Program. He spent that first spring with the Corps installing water saving measures in low-income homes.
“I stared poverty in the face and made real and tangible changes,” said Jesse. “I began to relearn the concept of community and feel a sense of belonging to a greater cause.”
Through his commitment to helping others and making a difference, Jesse proved to be a natural leader. He was elected by his peers to Leadership Council; the Corpsmember-led governing body of Mile High. He served as the voice of his crew, enacted policy changes based on Corpsmember input and organized agency-wide events.
Once the summer came around, Jesse was promoted to Assistant Crew Leader. Around the same time, he and his peers transitioned to land conservation work for the summer and fall months.
“I think definitely what stood out to me during that first year with the Corps was the work that I did on land conservation,” said Jesse. “For roughly six months I was part of a chainsaw crew. I worked with the same Crew Leader and some of the same crewmembers and we had a very successful two seasons together in terms of how cohesive we were as a group. I’m really proud of our accomplishments.”
At the end of Jesse’s ten-month term, he was hired by MHYC as an Alumni Mentor for a 1,700 hour term. The Mentor position allowed him to assist with Corpsmember hiring and recruitment, support program development, and serve as a liaison between Corpsmembers and staff. Jesse also assumed the responsibility of coordinating and facilitating MHYC’s first Crew Leader training, and he helped plan MHYC’s first Career Day: an event that gives Corpsmembers the opportunity to learn more about MHYC staff and ask questions about current job market trends in the conservation field. Because of Jesse’s leadership and organizational skills, both of these events were a great success.
Though Jesse was instrumental in implementing organization-wide policies and events that touched many people in the MHYC community, some of his most meaningful experiences came from simply working with Corpsmembers and other young people in the program.
“As an Alumni Mentor, I provided leadership, support and training for Corpsmembers in our Energy, Water and Land programs,” said Jesse. “My role was to connect with Corpsmembers on an individual level, ensure that they were engaging in meaningful service opportunities and educational experiences and provide on-going suggestions for improvements in our programming. At its simplest, I maintained and promoted a positive corps culture across the agency”
Throughout his time with MHYC, Jesse has, according to his supervisors, “displayed a commitment to high quality work that is difficult to match. He gives 100 percent every day and motivates his peers through challenging times.” These claims are easily backed up by the Corpsmembers that Jesse has mentored and inspired over the past couple years.
“I feel lucky to have Jesse as a mentor,” said one Corpsmember “I think he truly believes in the influence that Mile High and AmeriCorps can have on young adults, and this belief comes through in his overwhelming concern and compassion towards every single Corpsmember. He has been a key agent in helping me to always see the bigger picture and to understand truly what service means. Jesse has made a huge impact on me and how I have come to view my own term of service.”
Another Corpsmember commented, “At the end of every day I would see Jesse getting back from the day’s work site where he had been cutting down trees for forest thinning. He would always have a smile on his face even though he would crawl out of the van dirtier than anyone else in the van; a strong testament to his ability to work hard all hours of the day while constantly being upbeat and positive. Every day that he comes to work he goes above and beyond what is required of him. His positivity and work ethic are infectious.”
After 3,400 hours with Mile High, Jesse became a staff member in late 2012. As a Program Specialist for the Corps’ Conservation Program, Jesse now leads the AmeriCorps Leadership and Conservation crew that he was a part of in 2011. He is excited to have the opportunity to create an AmeriCorps experience for his Corpsmembers that was as valuable as his own.
“I am thrilled to be able to continue promoting individual learning, leadership and personal growth among Corpsmembers,” said Jesse.
While working full-time at Mile High Youth Corps, Jesse plans to use his AmeriCorps Education Awards to pursue a master’s degree in Public Administration at the University of Colorado, Denver. Ultimately, he hopes to work in a managerial role at a Denver area non-profit focused on community development. Though he might not stay at Mile High forever, Jesse will forever be changed by his time with the Corps.
“At the end of my two years in AmeriCorps, the biggest change is who I see in the mirror. I am proud of who I am. My AmeriCorps experience kindled a passion for service inside me. I learned the value of community, hard work and integrity and now live in service to those values. I would like to thank Mile High Youth Corps for providing me with the tools to make a difference in my own life and the lives of others.”