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Sat, July 31

Turning volunteering into something more

Sarah Lechich is a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador at Grand Canyon National Park. Photo/Sarah Lechich

Sarah Lechich is a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador at Grand Canyon National Park. Photo/Sarah Lechich

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - I always knew from an early age that I enjoyed helping others and making a difference in whatever way I could. I always and still do jump at the chance to lend a helping hand. Who knew this passion for helping others through volunteering would lead me to a possible career as a volunteer coordinator.

In high school I had the opportunity to play a bigger part in my community by volunteering with my high school Key Club and my Venture Crew. Whenever I was not studying I was volunteering and in a three year period I volunteered over 400 hours of community service. I would never trade those hours for anything because those volunteer opportunities provided me with invaluable friends, skills, references, experiences and much more than I will ever know. It was during that time that the ground work was laid for the possibility of becoming a volunteer coordinator and more importantly laying the ground work for me to become an active citizen in my community.

After a year long break from volunteering I did not come to my aha moment of turning my passion for volunteering into something more. It was at this point I decided to dive feet first into every volunteer opportunity which led me to becoming very active at my University's Volunteer and Service Learning Center and their alternative break program. I participated in a few of the local alternative breaks and a few that took place out of the area including helping Habitat for Humanity build houses, working with New York Cares on Hurricane Sandy relief and going to Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) to volunteer with its Wildland Fire program.

The trip to GCNP was a turning point for me in what I consider my right path. I had the opportunity to pick my trip cause, location and even my team. I am thankful that I applied to be an alternative break leader because it gave me the experience of planning and following through with all the different volunteer trip logistics from start to finish. It was during this trip that I had the chance to meet my current boss, Grand Canyon Ranger Todd Nelson. Todd was the one who first informed me that there was such a thing as an Alternative Break Citizenship School and that in fact he and Break Away would host this school and it would take place at the Grand Canyon that summer. When he told me about his school and what it entailed I knew I wanted to take part.

I applied to be a site leader at the Alternative Break Citizenship School and excitingly enough I was selected. This was another amazing chance to come back to the park, this time help in a different way. I, along with several other site leaders, were able to help Break Away and Ranger Todd at this school to train the many students who attended learn about the many different aspects of alternative breaks. During this time we also helped encourage the students to become environmental stewards for their public lands.

After the Alternative Break Citizenship School I said my goodbyes and went back home where I decided to try out a full time job as a student recruiter at a local college. I really enjoyed the people who I met and the skills I gained from this student affairs position, but when Todd sent out an e-mail telling me and many of his junior rangers about the Student Conservation Association (SCA), National Park Service and AmeriCorps Centennial Volunteer Ambassador Internship position. I jumped at the chance.

I applied and a few days later Todd called me to offer me the position. Here I am several months into my internship looking back at the path that led me to become a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador which has provided me the chance to gain hands on experience as a volunteer coordinator in a National Park setting. 

Being a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador at GCNP finally gave me that aha moment and realization that my passion for volunteering can turn into something much more. It is a job with a purpose fit perfectly for me. My hope is to inspire others to become as passionate, if not more, about volunteering and becoming active citizens in their communities. This has been an unexpected, once in a lifetime position and I am glad I took a chance and said yes to becoming a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador.

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