Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Vista Memories: The Watershed Czar

In leading up to our big VISTA celebration event later this month, the Rural Rambler will be featuring a series of reflections from Rural Action VISTAs over the years. Today we feature Chris Zdinak, VISTA, and the man known far and wide as "The Watershed Czar." Here's his story in his own words.

"Undulation is a term used to describe a series of frequent peaks and valleys, and my time with Rural Action as an AmeriCorps VISTA does not escape this description. I began my service on July 15th, 2007 and ended it on October 13th, 2008, serving with the Federal Valley Watershed.

One of my first experiences as a VISTA was a frustrating one. I was part of the planning committe of a joint watershed festival in Glouster, but unfortunately the festival never got off the ground. After that experience, the year seemed a little out of sync as I realized I had my work cut out for me trying to make the Federal Valley Watershed Group successful and sustainable. Eventually my supervisor left the watershed and I became the only person representing the Federal Valley for Rural Action.

2009 was the dawn of a new era for Rural Action, my new place in Rural Action and my new responsibilities within the Federal Valley Watershed. During that year, one of my favorite projects as a VISTA was developing a program using Ohio Environmental Education Fund (OEEF) with Tom Redfern. He was an excellent supervisor and gave me a lot of professional advice and guidance, but, at the same time, enough freedom to accomplish the tasks needed to be done. We created information packets about site visits by professional foresters, and used them, along with PSAs and other media resources, to help impoverished landowners gain access to professional foresters.

We also worked on putting together Best Management Practices (BMP) workshops for land owners, most of which involved invasive species. One of the outcomes of the grant was the creation of a “tool box” for landowners. After landowners received site visits, we mailed them information about the specific goals outlined by themselves and the forester. Working with the grant was difficult, but in the long run these efforts were rewarded with tax breaks, access to subsidies, and grant money for the landowners.

I was also involved during my VISTA service in projects from other programs and watershed groups. I helped with two watershed day camps put on by Sunday Creek Watershed, and it was a great experience involving young children in science, encouraging their curiosity and relationships with the environment. We also promoted AmeriCorps and volunteering at Rural Action in local high schools. One of my most enjoyable and emotional experiences was talking with the Trimble High school students about science and science careers, and I was reminded of my own days at a small, rural high school.

In the end, my 15 months of service with Rural Action gave me a very pragmatic understanding of rural development, non-profit work, sustainable development and, most of all, the power of cooperation. I learned to truly organize a community, you must have a plan and be part of that community. I am glad I chose to do a year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA, and I am grateful it was with Rural Action."

Chris Zdiniak
Rural Action VISTA

Stay tuned to the Rural Rambler for more VISTA memories.

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