AmeriCorps Members Are Lending Harwich A Helping Hand

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Conservation

AmeriCorps Cape Cod members Jodi Monroe, Madeline Oerth and Stori Peterson are serving Harwich in various fashions to protect the environment and improve quality of life. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO


HARWICH – Three members of AmeriCorps Cape Cod are working directly with town departments and the Harwich Conservation Trust to enhance the community's quality of life, focusing primarily on environmental management, maintenance and education.

The national AmeriCorps program was established in 1994 and is often referred to as the “domestic Peace Corps.” The AmeriCorps program in Barnstable County started 23 years ago and attracts members from across the country to Cape Cod to focus primarily on environmental service.

The local program provides young adults a 10-month, full-time residential living opportunity to work on the environmental and disaster preparedness needs of the 15 towns of Barnstable County, said Harwich Conservation Trust Executive Director Michael Lach. 

The program is funded by Barnstable County and through grants from the Massachusetts Service Alliance and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Housing is provided by the county and Cape Cod National Seashore.

Jodi Monroe is from Fayetteville, N.C. and was drawn to the Cape Cod program because of its environmental focus. She said she went to vocational high school and trained to be an electrician, but after graduation she began questioning her future. 

“I decided I want to do something more environmentally conscious while on earth,” Monroe said. 

She got involved in an AmeriCorps program in North Carolina, but it got canceled. When she learned of the environmental focus of the Cape Cod program, she decided to give it a try. She works two days a week in the Harwich Conservation Department managing town-owned conservation lands, maintaining trails and watching out for illegal activities “so we can protect our environment.”

Madeline Oerth comes from Georgetown, Mass., and has a marine biology degree from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. She spends two days a week working in the town’s cemetery department, maintaining the grounds of town cemeteries, dealing with vegetation, and overseeing the James G. Marceline Arboretum in Island Pond Cemetery. She also puts her marine biology degree to work one day a week at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown.

“I was just interested in everything environmental,” Oerth said of what drew her to AmeriCorps. 

She said she wanted to try different things for a year before applying to graduate school, and a college advisor recommended AmeriCorps Cape Cod.  

Stori Peterson comes from Pomona, Calif., and said she was excited to explore New England. She said that the work AmeriCorps Cape Cod is doing is really important, focusing on protecting the environment.

“It’s important to give space for the natural environment to survive,” Peterson said. “I was also drawn by the prospect of adventure.”

Peterson studied English literature at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif., and saw AmeriCorps service as an opportunity to connect literature with nature. She is now working two days a week on land stewardship, conducting nature walks and environmental education programs with the Harwich Conservation Trust. 

When the AmeriCorps members are not working with the Harwich agencies, they join with other members of AmeriCorps Cape Cod on group projects, primarily environmentally driven activities throughout the Cape. The members have housing in Chatham, Wellfleet and Bourne.

The connection with the AmeriCorps members from across the country is a great experience, Monroe said.

“All our members are really cool,” she said. “We come from different backgrounds and have different stories of growing up.”

“Living with roommates is a lot of fun. We go out and do things together,” said Peterson. 

It hasn’t taken long for the AmeriCorp members to bond with Cape life and people. 

“I appreciate how they say ‘Cape Cod, a life and breath by the water’,” Monroe said. “I’m impressed by how much they want to keep water clean and safe here.”

“I love the Cape,” added Oerth. “I love the community aspect of it. If you live elsewhere in Massachusetts it’s not the same. It’s the way people care for the environment here.”

“What I love about the Cape is that the only constant is change,” Peterson said. “When it comes to wildlife and nature here, it’s always evolving and restoring itself. The seasons here are also more distinct than in California.” 

Peterson said she is interested in the ecology and geology of the Cape, the tide and its reshaping of the cliffs. There is no way to know how it will turn out in the future, she said.

“I’m glad to be a part of it,” said Peterson.

The AmeriCorps members said they love people's commitment and the networks established to focus on the protection of the environment.  

“People are very connected to nature here,” Monroe said. “There are more networks of people working together to protect the land. People want to work with you to protect and conserve their surroundings.”

“There is more of a sense of camaraderie here than in the urban areas,” said Peterson. “A lot of people have heard of AmeriCorps and Harwich Conservation Trust. Their gratitude is so genuine. I don’t get that from where I came from. Everything is bigger and farther apart. They focus on different priorities. People praise us here, but they are really our mentors and teachers.”

What will these AmeriCorps members take away from their 10 months on Cape Cod?

“I hope it will lead to a well-rounded education on how a conservation department works inside the office and on the land,” said Monroe. “I’m hoping to find a direction this year, possibly in urban forestry, or as an arborist.”

“I’m looking to expand my education in the environmental field,” said Oerth, who plans to attend graduate school next fall.

“By the end of the year, I hope to have a more concrete direction in my education on where we can lend a hand or step aside and let nature take care of itself,” Peterson said. “Overall, I’m looking for the betterment of the environment on a landscape a lot of people call home.”