Kansas employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service have been honored with three national awards for working with volunteers. All work with the Earth Team program that partners volunteers with NRCS employees to help conserve, maintain and imporove the environment.
Bernadette Luncsford, District Conservationist, St. Francis, received the Earth Team Employee Award for her commitment and contributions to the Earth Team Program. Bernadette's area was able to utilize 134 volunteers and capture 999 hours of volunteer time.
The key to Bernadette's successful program is she volunteers herself, not only taking advantage of the opportunities through NRCS and USDA but in her own community—donating blood, sorting donations at church, and speaking at civic organizations.
One of Bernadette's most notable endeavor's is the Community Garden Group she founded in St. Francis. Through this, she has recruited volunteers in non-traditional ways and will meet the people where they are if need be—if someone is homebound and wants to help, she delivers produce to them to be washed or recipe cards to be cut out for the food pantry packages. This gives everyone—the disabled, homebound, etc.—a chance to be Earth Team volunteers.
Toni Flax, Rangeland Management Specialist, Hill City, is an Area Earth Team Volunteer Coordinator for nine Management Units in Kansas and for 27 offices. Like Bernadette, Toni leads by example. She volunteers as a 4-H Leader for the Graham County Rangeland and Soils project and feels that volunteering in her community is very important and that her contributions may give her 4-H club members the confidence they need to succeed.
Toni started out as an Earth Team volunteer during high school and has now come full circle not only as a full-time NRCS employee, but as a state and national award-winning Earth Team Volunteer Coordinator.
The Jackson County Conservation District, Holton, Kansas, was recognized for its use of volunteers and its varied projects, not only in its local area, but surrounding communities as well.
This past year, just a few of the projects the JCCD were involved in were:
Assisted with the vegetation plantings on a streambank stabilization project; hosted a no-till field day; hosted the annual Ag/Water Festival for 3rd and 4th grade students in 3 schools at Banner Creek Reservoir; hosted a Livestock-Drought Workshop to address winter cattle feeding, drought recovery in pastures, sericea lespedeza, and blue green algae in stock water ponds
The JCCD was also involved in many other projects throughout the year to include sponsoring an essay contest, hosting Women In Ag meetings, assisting in an Area Soil Judging Contest, and many other items.
Kansas NRCS State Conservationist Eric B. Banks gives credit to his state's Earth Team success to staff members simply taking a personal interest in each volunteer and encouraging them to explore new interests.
"Staff interviews each volunteer in order to find where they can best be used, and then we find appropriate jobs to fit their abilities and interest," said Banks. "I am very proud of the many dedicated Earth Team volunteers who have committed their time and talents in conserving and protecting the soil, water, and wildlife in Kansas."
For more information about being an Earth Team volunteer in Kansas, contact Jan Klaus, Volunteer Coordinator, 785-625-2588, or go to the Kansas NRCS homepage and click on Earth Team Volunteers. Additional information on the Earth Team Volunteer Program is available online or by calling 888-526-3227. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.