Q&A with New Staff

March 11, 2016 | Conservation, Staff

Community Programs Manager John Woodward and Operations Manager Patrick Pfeifer.
Community Programs Manager John Woodward and Operations Manager Patrick Pfeifer.

We caught up with two new staff members at the lunch table in the VYCC’s office at the West Monitor Barn. Please join VYCC in welcoming Operations Manager Patrick Pfeifer, and Community Programs Manager John Woodward.

Patrick worked with the Arizona Conservation Corps and ran his own composting business; recycling food waste and natural debris from area colleges and Grand Canyon National Park. He will manage project and partner development for the Conservation Program.

John returns to VYCC after teaching in Qatar and Thailand. He previously managed VYCC’s High School Leadership Program. John will lead the effort to make the VYCC experience available to more Vermont youth.

As professionals that work outdoors with young people, what is your favorite time of year to be outside?

Patrick: Coming from Arizona, which has a less spectacular fall, I’m excited for fall in Vermont.

John: I like fall as well. I love the sense of urgency to get ready for winter. It’s a great motivator to work outdoors.

What is it about getting young people outside that allows for deep learning?

John: Seeing young people realize that they are more capable than they think they are opens new doors for learning. Adults don’t always allow kids to take chances. Being outdoors and taking calculated risks gives youth opportunities to recognize their potential and grow.

Patrick: I had the most fun learning when I was outdoors – learning how to identify trees by their bark, and doing water quality assessments in a canoe. I was lucky enough to have some teachers who took it upon themselves to break school policy and take us on great field trips!

What’s you most memorable outdoor teaching moment?

John: I had a group of ten teenagers on Penobscot River in Maine. It was early morning, fog on the water. The kids were talking energetically. All of a sudden, we came across an adult moose and calf voraciously feeding along the water’s edge. The students all fell silent with a total sense of wonder. I didn’t have to say anything – the experience spoke for itself and opened up opportunity for great discussion later.

Patrick: One night, my group had a late arrival into camp. A Corps Member who had gone off to dig the latrine was proud of the spot he found and brought us all over. We agreed and watched the sunset from that spot. But, we did not mark our path and lost camp. It became a lesson in navigating in the dark. We used moon and stars to find the way back.

Patrick, in addition to being a forest guy and a Conservation Corps guy, you’re also a compost guy. Why do you love decomposition?

Patrick: I love that you are literally building new soil. Composting offers a way to teach young people just about everything: physics, geometry, biology, chemistry, geology, ecology.

We will be building an interpretive trail network on VYCC’s campus in the near future. Should it take visitors past our compost operation, and what should the sign say?

Patrick: Institutions should really highlight their compost operations, not hide it behind the shed. A well-managed compost pile is something to be proud of.

Signage can incorporate a science lesson. Compost has a net CO2 equivalent reduction of 0.8 tons per ton of compost. The very act of composting reduces greenhouse gas emissions because in the landfill, waste releases methane; in compost, it releases just a small amount of CO2.

John, you are stepping into a brand new role at VYCC, leading our community crew expansion. Why is this significant for Vermont?

John: In recent years we’ve seen real struggles in communities – Tropical Storm Irene, food insecurity, shrinking school budgets. We have a great opportunity to help communities harness the power of their young people.

The trend of young people leaving Vermont is a real detriment to the health of the state. As a kid, I never took the opportunity to reinvest in my community which did such a great job of raising me.

Patrick: I agree. It is important to engage youth in projects in their community, building something they can be proud of years down the road. I planted trees in Tucson. Even though I don’t live there anymore, I’m connected to that place. Youth want to make a mark, and often it’s in the form of something destructive like graffiti. The VYCC community crew channels that desire into something positive.

What is your primary marker of success in the first year?

John: Our work with the Town of Dorset is going to be a great marker of success. Dorset just made a big investment to acquire land for a town forest, and the community recognizes how we can help them. I am excited about this new partnership.

Second is growing our partnership with the Vermont Department of VocRehab, which opens doors to a wider variety of young people that can experience VYCC.

What evidence of these crews will Vermont see?

John: Vermonters will see crews at work, engaged with community members and proud of the work they are doing. Afterwards, people are going to see their public lands and communities improved. The challenge will be helping Vermonters see that VYCC youth did this work.

What excites you about being at VYCC?

John: I’m excited to be in a place that values what we have – our outdoor space, and the people that make Vermont strong. I love that part of my job is to work with people that are truly invested in their own communities. And I think the Red Sox are going to have a better season this year!

Patrick: I’m excited that VYCC is the next stage in my professional trajectory. I really missed working with youth. I’m coming back to the corps world with a new set of skills, even more prepared to positively impact young folks’ lives.