Making a difference at home: AmeriCorps member returns to assist with REC’s forestry project

Every year, many young adults travel abroad to places like Africa and South American in search of impactful volunteer experiences.  Others find those experiences in the very places that they call home as was the case with AmeriCorps member, Alex Martin. Currently, Martin is working with the Roanoke Center’s sustainable forestry and land retention initiative.

The Roanoke Center (TRC) is the non-profit subsidiary organization of Roanoke Electric Cooperative.Roanoke Electric and TRC are piloting a Sustainable Forestry and African-American Land Retention Program. This project is a joint venture of the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Forest Service.

The Sustainable Forestry project will help to restore and conserve threatened African-American forest land in Roanoke Electric’s service area by enabling landowners to increase forest-owner income and land asset values. Landowners will have access to many services, including outreach and education, technical assistance, financial assistance for forestry legal services, mapping, forest management planning and implementation, conservation and restoration, and access to new forestry technologies and emerging markets. 

“The work that the Roanoke Center is doing is important,” said Martin. “We haven’t seen the widespread impact of it yet in our communities, but I do believe that TRC is laying the foundations necessary to achieve a future where the impact of this program will be clearly evident. Economic, environmental, and intergenerational forest sustainability are realistic achievable goals that will ultimately be made possible by their ongoing work.”

A Warren County native and Warren County High School graduate, Martin is no stranger to the unique challenges of rural North Carolina concerning forestry.Before heading off to Oregon State University, Martin recalled seeing trees being cut down for a subdivision development across from his grandmother’s home in Axtell.

“After I graduated, I knew I wanted to be in the environmental field,” Martin said. “I wanted to do something that mattered but there weren’t a lot of job prospects back at home,” he continued.

As a result, Martin went seeking the opportunities he felt passionately about through AmeriCorps.  Soon after, he was partnering with TRC with its Sustainable Forestry and African-American Land Retention Program.

“Forests sustain not just our environment and climate but sustain our families, our wallets and personal economies,” Martin noted.

Martin also highlighted TRC’s Sustainable Forestry program’s impact on local young adults. “The work I am doing at the request of the Roanoke Center puts the bright young minds on paths they never thought they could traverse.”

Through his partnership with TRC, Martin recently had the opportunity to promote the sustainable forestry effort at Halifax Community College’s Octoberfest on October 15. “The young adults were really engaged at the prospective opportunities available in the field,” Martin noted.

Of the materials Martin distributed to those who attended was a brochure he created specifically for the event.  The brochure detailed career opportunities in sustainable forestry and forest stewardship.

Although he’s only been with The Roanoke Center team for the past two months, Martin notes that working with the project has been extremely rewarding – especially when it comes to engaging local youth.

“Being able to see the moment of epiphany in people’s minds is priceless,” Martin commented. 

A major part of Martin’s success has been a result of being proactive and hands-on in our local school systems.  Martin recently participated in Bertie County High School’s “Take a Child Outside Week” where 11-12th grade biology students spent a portion of their day taking samples and conducting field work.

Martin noted that many of the students’ perception towards forestry changed as a result of the activity. “I was pleasantly surprised at the shift in their perception after this experience,” he said. 

Martin has also developed a “Forest Fun Day” program and a K-8 grade activity workbook that focuses on using the great outdoors for curriculum activities

“Students can measure acute and obtuse triangles using trees and take dirt samples and draw conclusions from these activities,” Martin concluded.  Martin is already working with Central Elementary School in Jackson in this regard.

On October 29th and November 3rd, Martin was also attended Roanoke-Chowan Community College’s recent Fall Festival and College Transfer Fair events. As a result, 12 students volunteered to participate in a possible service learning project at Merchants Millpond State park in Gatesville NC.

“No matter the challenges or setbacks this is important work, and someone’s got to do it.” Martin said. “I am personally glad it’s our local non-profit, the Roanoke Center, working hard to achieve these worthy goals.”

For more information about Roanoke’s Sustainable Forestry and African-American Land Retention Program, please visit www.roanokeelectric.com/Forestry.

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