Four Years of Service

A tribute to VHCB AmeriCorps member, Keith Roberts, by Cassidy Francik serving with VHCB

Ask most any AmeriCorps member why they chose a year of service and you may hear something like, “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to give back.” Ask most any AmeriCorps member what they plan on doing after service and you’ll hear a similar yet slightly less ambiguous response. Finally, ask any AmeriCorps member what it means to serve; you’ll never hear the same answer twice.

Now, ask Keith Roberts those same questions, but revise the final question to highlight his four terms of service.

Keith 1Yes, that’s correct; Keith served four terms with the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board (VHCB) AmeriCorps program. If that’s not enough to clasp your hands and say thank you to this man, then read on.

Prior to his four terms with VHCB AmeriCorps, Keith served with the Army for 8 years. He enlisted after his high school graduation, eventually becoming a parachutist and assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. Four years passed by and although Keith loved his position, he decided to serve a bit differently. He re-enlisted, remained in the Army, but returned to school to become an Army veterinarian technician. In 2007, Keith returned home putting his vet tech degree to good use at a local animal hospital while he earned a B.A. in Environmental Science from Castleton State College.

Upon his graduation in 2010, Keith felt the need to seek a new career opportunity that would highlight his degree. That’s when, guided by a friend, he stumbled upon a position posting, “VHCB AmeriCorps: Nursery Grower.” Keith pursued this position and began serving at The Nature Conservancy (TNC) on March 21, 2011.

March 21, 2011 was not only Keith’s first day and his birthday, but also the first full day of spring. As a grower, you should be excited for the first full day of spring. Keith was inarguably excited, but equally apprehensive at the same time; he had very little experience with gardening and nursery maintenance. However, if you didn’t notice from his varying experiences, Keith’s a quick learner. Under the guidance of his first supervisor, J. Murray McHugh, he quickly grew into the position.

Each of Keith’s terms were half-time positions, typically serving from March to August. During his first term, he was responsible for growing trees and shrubs that were placed in a Nature Conservancy restoration project in the Champlain Valley. Much of this work required Keith to travel the Vermont Countryside, identifying plants and collecting seeds for production. Near the end of his first term Keith found himself intertwined, like a vine, in his position. He became attached to the plants he cared for and loved the service he was taking part in. To justify what may seem like a crazy decision of signing another AmeriCorps contract that featured little pay (but many unforgettable experiences) Keith felt that deepening his understanding and commitment to the position would benefit him professionally.

So, Keith waited out the winter in great anticipation of his second term. His skills were growing along with his plants, therefore TNC asked him to oversee the production of elm trees for another project of theirs. As he began to think it may be time to move on to another position or to begin graduate school, TNC informed him that the nursery was to be relocated to Green Mountain College. With this news came a request: would Keith take charge of this transition? The move was planned for the end of his second term, around the time TNC announced that the elm work was to be extended for an additional three years. Without hesitation, Keith set aside his yearnings for a change and signed on for a third term.

Keith 2A great deal of work was to be done and Keith proudly stepped up to the challenge. He facilitated the nursery transfer to Green Mountain College at the same time he was accepted into the college’s MBA graduate program. Dr. Natalie Coe, Keith’s new supervisor recognized his tenacious work ethic and held no reservations when leading Keith through a demanding yet rewarding third term. During his third term, Keith resumed his usual duties with additional responsibilities of planning a cold frame to house the elm trees, incorporating the student body in the nursery work, and designed a course to be taught in the fall of 2013.

Keith's work ethic remained strong and steadfast in his time in-between terms as he continued overseeing his projects, all the while still working at the local veterinary hospital and instructing snowboarding lessons at Killington Resort.

Upon joining the VHCB AmeriCorps service team for the fourth and final time in March of 2014, Keith had experience managing the construction of the new cold frame as well as instructing an undergraduate course on seed collection and stratification. He used these experiences on top of his already impressive resume to promote and facilitate an internship program.

Nevertheless, don’t forget, Keith is pursuing his MBA at the same time. As of July 2014, he is in his final stages of his “capstone project,” which focuses on creating a business plan for the nursery, allowing for it to be self-sustaining while promoting the importance and value of native plants in the Green Mountain College physical and academic landscape. Keith plans to graduate in December of 2014.

Honoring a man with such an altruistic nature, a man who’s given many years to serving this nation and his community, is a daunting task. I see no better way to do so than by telling you what he’s revealed to me:

You’re always learning and growing personally and professionally. And, the path you choose today may not be where you find yourself tomorrow, but always value the opportunities you’re presented with. Always meet and greet people with a smile on your face and lend them an honest ear.

Keith always has a smile on and although he’s quiet with his words, he’s loud with his actions. I’ve only known him for a few months; I can only imagine what he’s done for those he’s known his whole life.

Thank you for your service Keith. Best of luck on your future endeavors.

VHCB AmeriCorps is a program of the
Vermont Housing & Conservation Board.

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