2013 Corpsmember of the Year, Sarah Huff
Sarah Huff enrolled at Shasta College in California after she graduated from high school in 2007. She wasn’t sure what kind of career she wanted to pursue and tried to keep an open mind about the future, but she didn’t feel inspired by any of her classes. Sarah completed most of her general course requirements after four semesters, yet she was no closer to declaring a major. It was time to try something new.
Around this time, Sarah came across a brochure advertising the California Conservation Corps (CCC). Across the front of the handout was the Corps’ official motto: “Hard work, low pay, miserable conditions…and more!” Sarah had never imagined herself taking a job that required long hours of exhausting physical labor, but she was looking for a change and the Corps would certainly present many new experiences. Within just two months of attending a CCC information session, Sarah joined the Corps and became a member of the Weaverville CCC expansion crew.
Sarah had always enjoyed being outside and she had recently discovered a love for backpacking, but before becoming a Corpsmember she had only ever worked in a book store and an office. Despite her inexperience, Sarah immediately stood out as a model Corpsmember. She was a quick learner and she willingly took on new responsibilities. Her hard work contributed immensely to the success of the newly-formed Weaverville crew. She endured the sometimes harsh conditions of working in the back country with a positive attitude, swapping jokes and riddles with her fellow Corpsmembers to keep up morale on long hikes and in bad weather.
It wasn’t long before Sarah was promoted to a Crew Leader position. She was so respected by her supervisors that she became one of only nine Corpsmembers statewide selected to represent the CCC in Australia for a two month exchange program with Conservation Volunteers Australia. While abroad, Sarah worked in flood recovery, tree planting and invasive species removal.
“It was a really good experience – I met a lot of neat people. For us it was basically like a paid vacation, but it was really cool to know that we were helping change peoples’ lives,” said Sarah. “They were so grateful to have us. It was less than a year after they’d had these big floods and they were still trying to get back on their feet. So it was really great to not only get to see a new country, but know that you made a difference while you were there.”
When Sarah returned from Australia she was promoted again and became a Crewleader II with the Redding CCC’s Type II Fire Crew. As the only woman on the crew, Sarah at first felt like she needed to prove she was tough and could keep up with the guys. However, she is such a skilled firefighter and leader that it didn’t take much effort for her to quickly earn the respect of the rest of the team.
In addition to her work with the Corps, Sarah volunteered her time at many community events in order to earn her AmeriCorps Education Awards. Sarah spent many hours helping with the Annual Salmon Festival, the local Children’s Festival, and various service learning projects. She went above and beyond the call of duty and even came into work on her days off to help her supervisors buy food and prepare camps for “spike” operations. A “spike” is when a crew camps near a project site and the Corpsmembers work ten hour shifts for eight days in a row, often in remote locations without conveniences like running water, electricity, or cell phone reception.
As one of Sarah’s supervisors said, “Sarah has a very positive effect on her peers. She is a great role model who ‘leads by example’ and shows others what they are capable of.” Sarah became known for her ability to motivate other Corpsmembers and for the way she relentlessly encouraged her peers to volunteer, work towards their Class B Driver’s licenses, and apply for jobs. During her term of service Sarah herself was able to earn her Class B license, move out of her parents’ house, and finally find a direction for her future.
Sarah was offered a number of jobs with the CCC, but after over two years of hard work she decided she was ready to go back to school. With the help of her AmeriCorps scholarship money, Sarah became a full-time student at American River College in January 2013. Her goal is to earn an associate’s degree in Environmental Conservation and then transfer to a school in the California State University system to complete a bachelor’s degree. Sarah is thankful that her time in the Corps helped her realize a passion for working outdoors. She hopes to eventually find a job in which she can use the skills she gained in the Corps. She has been researching positions with Corps and with agencies like the Park Service and the Forest Service.
“While in the CCC I’ve been a trail worker, a cook, a firefighter, a Crew Leader, a student and a teacher. I’ve done landscaping, fuel reduction, fence repair, habitat restoration and rock work. I’ve worked harder than I thought I could and been more exhausted than I thought possible. I’ve watched people come and go and made some great friends. Most importantly, I’ve made a difference.”