Conserving the Future of Our Outdoors

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United We Serve
CNCS Staff

The national service community has much to be proud of when it comes to protecting our outdoors. Among many actions, we restore public lands and preserve parks across in communities across the country.

Dr. Benjamin Blonder, Jon Brito, and Andy Hart pause for a photo after the White House Champions of Change Event honoring the Next Generation of Environmental Conservationists on March 18, 2014, in Washington, DC.Yesterday this work was front and center at the White House, where a Champions of Change program celebrated local leaders who are working to get young people to learn, play, serve, and work outdoors.

Whenever there’s a discussion about how to achieve these goals, you can bet that individuals who served in AmeriCorps are part of that conversation—and yesterday was no exception.

Take a look at the members of the AmeriCorps family who were honored at the White House:

Dr. Benjamin Blonder, Co-founder of University of Arizona’s Sky School
Tucson, AZ

Dr. Benjamin Blonder co-founded the University of Arizona’s Sky School, a residential science school that provides inquiry-based environmental education on a campus located in the heart of the Coronado National Forest. Because of his efforts, each year hundreds of K-12 students, primarily from Title I schools, are now able to conduct independent research while exploring the unique ecology, geology, and astronomy resources of the region. These experiences are key for inspiring and preparing a more diverse next generation of scientists and conservation leaders. Benjamin’s vision for the Sky School was inspired by his AmeriCorps service in central Idaho at the McCall Outdoor Science School, a NSF-supported teaching fellowship in a Tucson public school, and his long-term volunteer leadership with The Sierra Club’s Inner City Outings program, which provides opportunities for urban youth to experience nature. He recently received his PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Arizona.

Jon Brito, AmeriCorps Alum, Kupu RISE Program Fellow
Kahului, HI

Jon Brito served three AmeriCorps terms with Kupu's Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps from 2008 to 2013, as a team member, team leader, and a year-long intern. During these terms Jon engaged the local youth and community members on the rural island of Moloka’i in critical environmental community service and indigenous cultural practices. Jon's commitment to serving the island's land and people has helped protect and restore countless endangered native Hawaiian species and habitats, perpetuate native Hawaiian knowledge and culture, and has inspired other local youth and community members to take an active part in the conservation movement on Molokai. Currently, Jon is a fellow in Kupu’s RISE Program, where he is finding ways to make agri-businesses more energy efficient. He is also completing the Electronic and Computer Engineering Technology Program at the University of Hawaii's Maui Campus.

Andy Hart, Executive Director of Nevada Outdoor School
Winnemucca, NV

Andy Hart has served as Executive Director at Nevada Outdoor School (NOS) for the past five years.  NOS, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, based in rural northern Nevada, strives to inspire the next generation of conservation leaders through a variety of inquiry-based science and experiential outdoor education initiatives.  By working to ensure NOS programs are offered for free or reduced rates, thousands of under-served Nevada youth are able to benefit from classroom lessons, field trips, summer camps and other programs each year.  A strong partnership network, including federal land management agencies allows students to connect authentically with the vast public lands in Nevada.  Nevada Outdoor School’s AmeriCorps program additionally offers citizens the opportunity to engage in service and explore natural resources careers in various positions including Naturalists for NOS education programs. Andy first fell in love with America's public lands as an engineer working in Nevada’s goldfields and also sits on the Bureau of Land Management's Sierra Front - Northwestern Great Basin Resource Advisory Council.

Anthony “Chako” Ciocco, Southwest Conservation Corps, a program of Conservation Legacy

Anthony “Chako” Ciocco is a Crew Leader for the Ancestral Lands Program at Southwest Conservation Corps, leading ecological restoration crews on the Navajo Nation. Under Anthony’s leadership his crews of local Native youth work to rebuild damaged ecosystems and build trails to provide outdoor access to local communities. In his work, Anthony accomplished extremely challenging and important conservation projects, while at the same time giving crew members a deep and hard-earned sense of accomplishment, enabling them to move forward in their professional and personal lives. Anthony, a member of the Mvskoke tribe, co-founded a non-profit devoted to restoration of traditional language and culture. He has also worked extensively in restoring traditional food systems and received the Live Real Food Fellowship.

These four Champions would also tell you that no one person nor one agency can protect our public lands alone.

The White House honored 14 Champions of Change as the Next Generation of Environmental Conservationists during a ceremony on March 18, 2014, in Washington, DC.That’s why we are so proud to work with the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Army and the Environmental Protection Agency to create more opportunities for young people to play, learn, serve and work on our public lands.

Fortunately, we will get to talk more about this important topic more next month. Environmental stewardship gets the spotlight in April as our monthly theme for the AmeriCorps 20th anniversary celebration. 

You can share your story about how you protect and preserve the environment through AmeriCorps by emailing


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