By Claire Jackson
This is a reflection on how I got to know Missouri River Relief, my year of service, and a call to action for future AmeriCorps members. If you would like to see past education programs click HERE.
One of my first interactions with the Missouri River Relief education department was in 2015 at the Missouri River Adventure Camp. This was a five-day sleepaway camp that introduced kids to the Big Muddy. Although I was familiar with one facet of the river, having already completed the MR340 in my early teens, this was the first time I was able to cruise along the river while learning about its ecology and history.
Toward the end of the camp, we were sitting down for lunch when sweat flies started to swarm us. Campers began to retreat, expecting the flies to sting as their markings implied. A volunteer sitting with us calmed us down by teaching the group about the insect. She allowed one to land on her hand and showed us how to correctly identify the fly to prove that it wasn't harmful. She then turned our attention back to her and told us something that has stuck with me over the years.
"You're gonna meet a lot of people over the years, kids," she said. "And they can all be put into three categories, depending on how they react to things they don't yet comprehend. Some people are going to try to avoid it because they're scared, while others are going to try to destroy it. The last few are going to stick around, try to come to an understanding, and see if it's anything to fear after all."
While that interaction was more than seven years ago, it has stuck with me and was reiterated with each education program I helped with. By interacting with the river, it becomes something to appreciate instead of fear. I'm proud I was able to help others get to know the Big Muddy!
When I began my AmeriCorps service in April of 2022, Missouri River Days was my first introduction to a Missouri River Relief educational program. My second week into my experience I was cast into a whirlwind of new faces, 4th graders, and life jackets. It was an amazing experience to see each group come into Cooper’s Landing beginning their day unsure of what to think of the situation around them and leaving with a new-found enthusiasm for the river and some exciting stories for their friends and family back home.
At education programs long after Missouri River Days, I would bump into students who would recognize me from their field trip. They would excitedly recount their adventures to me and all the fun memories they had made in so few hours. It was great to know we had such a great impact teaching these kids on the river.
Fast forward to the beginning of November and the weather was turning cooler. Putting on programs turned to putting together programs. There was a lot of research that went into plastic reduction education, and implementing actions you can take to make our waterways cleaner. I also wanted to stray away from the sense of doom that permeates articles about plastic waste.
In my research and throughout my time on the river, plastic pollution has been inescapable. Online I was hit with a barrage of pictures of littered beaches and sick animals shrouded in plastic. These articles unfortunately tend to hurt rather than help. Instead of propelling people forward to save the turtles, it makes people shrug every time they use a straw. It makes them ask themselves what the point of worrying is if all of us are doomed to choke on plastic in the end.
That isn’t to say that people should be ignoring these images and reports. However, this shouldn’t be the only way you consume information about what is happening to the environment. Just focusing on the crisis will only bring hopelessness and the sense that you have no agency to fight something much bigger than you. You can only tell a person their world is going to end so many times until they disengage into apathy.
The good news is that the solution to this issue is all around. The antithesis of apathy is community. That’s where you come in, future AmeriCorps member. Missouri River Relief exemplifies a sense of community in everything they do. Their cleanups organize people from across the state and prove time and again that our strength as a collective can move mountains. Their education programs encourage participants to understand the river on a deeper level. The staff at River Relief are bound and determined on making ‘taking action’ as accessible as possible. And you get to be a part of it.
Throughout your year, I hope you try things you never thought you would. I hope you have an adventure you talk about for years to come. I hope you find community.
See you on the River.
Click HERE to see past AmeriCorps Reflections