Charles Johnson was a student athlete in college with the goal of one day working in law enforcement. After an internship with the Richmond Police Department, Charles decided that law enforcement would not be the best way for him to make an impact. He completed two service years and found the passion to open his own business educating at-risk youth about the environment around them.
Q: What led you to a service year with Virginia Conservation Corps?
Charles: “I attended Virginia Union and my undergrad was in criminology and criminal justice. I had an internship with the Richmond Police Department and with the things going on in the world, I decided law enforcement wasn’t going to be the best place for me to help the community. I found AmeriCorps through my fiancé who was interning in the Regional AmeriCorps office. She told me about the opportunities available and I thought it sounded pretty cool. I was ready to transition out of my job so I went into a 10-month, individual placement position.”
Q: Have you developed a passion for working in conservation?
Charles: “Yes, 100%. Since I started my service year, I have opened my own business in environmental education just because of the love that I have grown for it. It changes people in ways that I know our inner city youth need. Seeing the need and the drastic change in my life, I think these kids can really benefit from it. It opened up a whole new door for me and gave me opportunity to make an impact. I want to pursue a career in conservation because I see the change that it does make in people’s lives.”
Q: What skills are you gaining during your service year?
Charles: “I would definitely say networking. I know personally no one gets anywhere by themselves in this world. The ability to have the network in the State Parks from the people in the central office down to the people getting their hands dirty on the maintenance team every single day — it's huge. Also, critical thinking, because I was tasked with quite a few projects in my service year and I didn’t always know what to do. I had to think outside the box, going back to research and all the things that you do in school that really doesn’t apply in life until somebody is like asks you to apply it. In terms of certifications, we got CPR, wilderness certified, wilderness first aid, ACAC (American Canoeing Association Certification), and became certified paddle teachers.
Q: Are there any challenges you had to overcome to do a service year?
Charles: “The living allowance. It’s 2017 and nowhere is cheap to live. Everything is expensive, gas, groceries, rent, having fun, etc. It really does make it difficult but it’s good. I’ve lived off of it for the last two years, so once I actually do get the full-time job I'll be perfectly fine, I think it's a lesson in itself. I would say that’s the biggest challenge and I don’t even know if it is a challenge.”
Q: What would happen in Virginia State Parks if you and the crew weren’t doing the work?
Charles: “It’s invisible work that we do. People just think it happens naturally — it doesn’t. Those trails that we build, the removal of plants that don’t belong there, or testing the waters to make sure they’re safe for people to use — those things all wouldn’t happen.I don't think it would be possible for everything to be done and for people to enjoy State Parks like they do if it wasn't for AmeriCorps.”