Support Great Basin Institute in Serving Public Lands in the West

VISTA Volunteers Support GBI Visitor Services

VISTA Volunteers Support GBI Visitor Services

Of all of GBI’s programs, Visitor Services, which oversees the visitor centers at Galena Creek and Taylor Creek, as well as the Tallac Historic Site, unquestionably has the greatest direct interaction with the public. Consequently, this program has the most opportunity to educate diverse populations about the benefits of and issues facing our natural environments. And key support of this mission comes from volunteers, and particularly those serving in AmeriCorps’ Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program. VISTA was founded in 1965 and is described by AmeriCorps as “an anti-poverty program designed to provide needed resources to nonprofit organizations and public agencies to increase their capacity to lift communities out of poverty.”

GBI currently has two stand-out VISTA volunteers who are helping our visitor services become increasingly vibrant with their outreach to both outdoor enthusiasts and those populations who have been traditionally underrepresented in outdoor recreation. GBI Visitor Services Administrator, Gabe Zurn, has been effusive in her praise of the hard work they have put into their service. She tells us, “Our VISTAs, Alexandria (Alex) Williams and Ashley Phillips, are aiming to expand the platform of our Visitor Services program so that we may have a greater impact on the community and the students – or, as we like to call them, our future scientists and environmentalists.

“Alex is our STEM Community Outreach Coordinator,” Gabe tells us. “She’s only been in the role a few months and is already coordinating with volunteers to map out a docent program focused on bringing more people out to Galena. Ashley is our DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) coordinator and will be integral, ensuring all the programming we do at Galena follows GBI’s DEI initiatives. She has the task of reaching out to local groups that are underrepresented and to include their voice in everything we do out at Galena. Ashley will also be working closely with Matt Reyes to integrate GBI’s DEI initiatives.”

Alex and Ashley were generous enough to share their stories with us, and we are delighted to present them below. Voices like theirs are crucial to nurturing public engagement with our natural places, and especially valuable in reaching those who have all too often have been overlooked by public messaging. As Gabe Zurn puts it, “Our Community is evolving and changing. With our VISTAs, we can make sure GBI is evolving and changing too.”

Alex Williams

“I am Alexandria (Alex) Williams (she/her) and I was born and raised in Las Vegas, NV. Growing up my parents were both educators in elementary and secondary schools. Therefore they taught me from a young age that I can become whoever or whatever I want to be if I put the work in. This led me to being on multiple sports teams and participating in extracurricular activities throughout all of my schooling. Fast Forward 18 years and I got accepted to multiple collegiate schools but ended up choosing a small private college in Helena, MT. This college gave me multiple career readiness opportunities such as being a student leader for the newly made Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, being a part of the Women’s Basketball team, working on campus, and spending time on field guided trips. By my junior year, I accepted my first ever internship with the Forest Service through Montana Conservation Corps. This experience really changed my mindset on work and how to make connections. In May 2022, I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Policy and Project Management with a Minor in Communications, and I searched for jobs in the Reno/Tahoe area. I knew I wanted to be outdoors and connect with the community in a way, so I became a summer camp counselor for GBI at Galena. And from there I chose to stay and continue two other positions as a former naturalist and now as the community outreach coordinator.

“As the Community Outreach Coordinator for Galena, I am currently doing various different things that tie into each other. My main focus is working on renewing and bettering our volunteer program through recruitment, outlines, budget lists, grant proposals, writing/editing the volunteer SOP handbook and working with our current volunteers. With the outreach part, I also manage our social media sites and focus on content creation to show our community what programs and events we offer at Galena Creek Park. This has allowed me to work closer with GBI’s media and marketing team to get more insight on how to manage and captivate a bigger audience (which is a career I would like to dive into deeper). 

“I started as a summer camp counselor and enjoyed the area and my time at Galena but in all honesty did not see myself staying after those three months. I had another job lined up that eventually fell through, so being young and having my first job “declinement” led me into a spiral. I was unsure of what to do, I didn’t want to move back home and be one of those 20 something year olds living with my parents, and I didn’t think any other place would hire me within two weeks. Thankfully my supervisor (Gabe) and I had made a great work relationship over the summer and she helped me get through it. The naturalist position became open for the fall and we worked together to make it my second position here. Being a naturalist helped me grow more professionally because we worked with title 1 schools where I would have to communicate with school admin, teach environmental curriculum to students, lead hikes and work in the Visitor Center giving information and customer service to recreationists. Through that time, I expressed that I would like to take on a role where I was in charge of myself and work that related to outreach, creating events and social media. That is when Gabe told me about the Community Outreach Coordinator VISTA position and I was interested. In a way Galena/GBI has benefitted me personally because I get to live in a beautiful area for free. I have had 2 and working in my 3rd position which has given me more experience, more connections and more independence.”

Ashley Phillips

“My name is Ashley Phillips. I’m from South Carolina. I relocated in April of 2022. I was a Preschool Teacher for three years, and I wanted a chance to teach a multitude of age groups. I love the outdoors and leading nature-based lessons. I had heard of AmeriCorps and found the Naturalist and Camp Coordinator Position with GBI. I relocated and spent the summer creating curriculum and running the summer camp at the park. Along with handling logistics of camp, I had the opportunity to train counselors, and lead some amazing hands-on activities. We had swim days, learned from guest speakers and environmental experts, and made plenty of crafts! Aside from summer camps, we also host field trips and field studies for students K-12.

“I didn’t want to leave Reno, and wanted more in-depth experience to help in my goal of working in outdoor education.  I applied for an Ameri-Corps Vista position. I am currently working with GBI as their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator. As an Educator, I strive to create an inclusive environment for everyone. I am working closely with our community to identify systemic barriers and encourage diversity at Galena Creek through our many educational programs. Galena Creek host Family Friday Craft Night every Friday from 6:00-7:30pm at our Visitor Center. Its open to all ages, and is as chance for Galena Creek Regional Park to connect with members of the community and gain important feedback. More information is on our social media as well as the link to RSVP.”

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