Joni Packard is a 21CSC Champion of the Year for 2017.
U.S. Forest Service (USFS) – Northern Region
Joni Packard has been with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) for 25 years, working in numerous capacities in Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana. She now serves as the Regional Volunteer, Youth and 21CSC Program Coordinator for the Northern Region, covering Montana, northern Idaho, and North and South Dakota. Packard has been involved with Corps since she served as a Youth Conservation Corps member in the 1970s. In her current role, she has partnered with numerous 21CSC organizations, helping lead efforts to engage more veterans and diverse youth in conservation projects. Packard has championed and sought additional Forest Service funding for Corps and other 21CSC partner engagement efforts, increasing additional funding to Northern Region field units from $150,000 in FY12 to almost $1 million in FY16. Packard is considered a leader by her peers in other regions and as a trendsetter for creative ways to engage youth on public lands.
Q&A with Joni Packard
Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get started in conservation and preservation?
I’ve had a long time interest in conservation and preservation issues since I was a junior high school student, back in the early 1970s. Along with the environmental issues and activism that were a key part of that era, we had a family cabin in the Cascade Mountains in Washington State that was instrumental in creating my love for the outdoors. Rachel Carson was one of my early heroes, not so much for her book “Silent Spring” but more for her book “A Sense of Wonder,” which found the beauty in nature and the “little things” as well as introducing one to the broader connections between living systems. In the mid-1970s, I was selected as a Youth Conservation Corps enrollee, right after the program was permanently authorized. YCC “started the spark” where I saw and realized I could turn my love for the natural world and connecting people to it, into a potential career in natural resources. Conservation and caring for this planet – and caring for people — has been a calling ever since!
What advice would you offer to resource management agency units and nonprofits interested in partnering with 21CSC programs?
The advice I would offer is look at these programs as a way to introduce young people to not only an agency’s and non-profit’s missions, but also as way to introduce young people to the skills, strengths, and leadership potential they have in themselves. These young folks – no matter what generation – are incredibly capable, passionate and caring – look at them not only as a way to help get needed work done, but as new stewards working shoulder to shoulder with us all right now. Create an array of experiences that will not only introduce them to conservation projects but also the stories, the connections, and a land and community ethic that will inspire their own future stewardship, no matter what career opportunities (public or private sector) they might pursue.
What should one expect when partnering with a 21CSC program?
When partnering with a 21CSC program, there’s always going to be some bumps along the way and some unexpected issues. Create timelines that allow flexibility if you can, have back-up plans when staffing issues happen, budgets are late, projects change or get done early, or emergencies (such as fire or floods) occur. Cost effectiveness and being value added is important for everyone – think about how to partner creatively to leverage resources. Talk about and develop shared outcomes. Stay engaged with each other. Be willing to experiment with new programming and partners (and/or new combinations of partners) to stay contemporary. Realize sometimes a partnership may not be a fit in some scenarios yet it doesn’t mean that a great partnership can’t still occur in others – it’s ok to adjust. Be thinking how to stay be ahead of the game in terms of demographic, cultural, and technological shifts. Be creative. Value traditions and new ideas – there will be different “cultures” within organizations (both public and private sectors) to work with. Understand each other’s processes, mission and goals. And…share a few laughs, some homemade cookies and get out on the ground together – see, value and acknowledge the great work everyone – 21CSC partners, crews, interns, and agency staff — are doing!
Where can those interested in working with the 21CSC turn for resources?
People can turn to The Corps Network and its’ website; visit directly with The Corps Network’s member organizations; and visit with agencies (such as Regional Volunteer and Service contacts) working with 21CSC partners.
What advice do you offer to young people in 21CSC programs who are interested in careers in preservation and land/water management?
The advice I offer is think about what most interests you, what you really love and would like to do, then visit with as many resource professionals as you can to learn about the potential career opportunities that might be out there, and what different jobs entail. “Taste test” different types of jobs, through either 21CSC service programs, volunteering and/or paid positions. You might think you would really love to be a wildlife biologist yet when you are actually doing data collection, it’s not quite a fit –but you then find you do love the larger context of resource management issues that tie into wildlife conservation issues. If a job in the federal, state or tribal government is of interest, check out what kinds of qualifications are needed to apply for those types of positions – check out the academic requirements as well as the experience requirements. That way, when you are still in school, you can take any additional courses or get the credit hours necessary to ensure you meet the qualifications. Stay engaged by networking through student and professional associations. Stay connected with resource people you may have met, who can also keep an ear out for potential job openings. Let people know what you are looking for. Ask for help regarding resumes and applications (Even though a good system, USAJOBS can be confusing!). Realize that you likely won’t find the “perfect” job the first time you apply – and don’t give up – keep applying/looking for jobs and concurrently keep building your resume with relevant jobs/experiences (even temporary jobs or volunteer work) that show your interest – and show your staying power. If a federal position is where a young person wants to go, I encourage folks to apply for any job they can that they qualify for – even if it’s not the “dream job” – yet. Getting that first foot in the door – and really, for any organization – is the hardest. Once you are “in,” even if it’s not the “dream” job you want, work hard, work well with others, and keep adding to your skill sets and resume – that will help get you to the “next” step in your career. And do be sure to stay at least a little while… it’s a huge investment by an organization (whether public or private sector) to bring someone on, so be that “someone” that an organization or supervisor can give a glowing recommendation about, when you are ready to look for that “next job.”
What drives you to support the 21CSC and youth engagement on public lands?
What drives me is that I believe in the future, that it is good, and that each generation is what makes up that good. Engaging youth on public lands is not only about creating future public land stewards, it’s also about creating connections – to themselves, to each other, to deeper understandings about different cultures, values, perspectives communities, and our natural systems – that will help create a better world for all. The pride that comes from a job well done, the self-esteem that happens when you can see how strong and capable you are, the camaraderie and friendships that can last a lifetime, the sense of stewardship and caring and being able to pass that along so that your kids will be able to enjoy public lands just as much as you have been able to do – all this and more is, for me, what youth engagement on public lands and waters is about.
What do you see as the future of Service and Conservation Corps?
I see the future of Service and Conservation Corps as a way to help connect our young people to not only their public land heritage and employment opportunities, but also as a way to help them create a more positive future. Service, any kind of service, is a way for people to give back, to find out about themselves, about other people, about connections to communities and the larger world. When we experience and work with other people, we get to know them as just regular folks, with similar dreams, hopes, fears and desires. It doesn’t matter if you are an urban youth working with a youth from a rural area or a Reservation, if you are black, white, or brown, male or female, young or old, straight or gay, from different religious, cultural, ethnic or racial backgrounds, “conservative” or “liberal”… when we can begin to work together on simple things like trail building, cooking dinner together after a hard day’s work, helping a crew member hoist a heavy pack, or making sure everyone’s ok on a long slog in to a remote backcountry work site, the “differences” can melt away and folks become friends, perspectives can change, and people realize they really can work together to make a difference. Through Service and Conservation Corps and Agency partners, there is the practical part of gaining work skills, getting work done on the ground, and understanding agency missions and conservation work. There is also the opportunity to become a “new bridge,” by helping create much needed connections and kinder understandings between us all.