My personal journey to and through CoolWorks begins in Oklahoma. I had just completed a double-major in Art (my passion) and Biology (my plan to avoid being a starving artist). I was in the biology department’s Tri-Beta honor society, and graduated with honors, but…it was in 2008, which happened to be the year of a large economic recession, which translated into a small hiring pool. Not much was available in Oklahoma, and I ended up interning for an oil and gas company, crunching numbers, and crying in the parking lot for my lunch hour.
In the interests of escaping parking lots, I took a chance to travel with a friend and ended up worked briefly in Ecuador washing dishes and muddy boots at the Bellavista Cloud Forest Resort. I had always liked butterflies and moths, and I made myself a photo journal of all the different Lepidoptera I saw during my stay. I quickly realized I was far happier washing dishes and photographing butterflies in the woods than I had been crunching numbers in Oklahoma City. Upon my return, I did the irresponsible thing and quit my job to work as an intern at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center in Pennsylvania. SCEC is an operating bird of prey sanctuary/education center based out of Penn State. This is where I learned that work in outdoor recreation was a possibility, and an entirely different world opened up for me. I worked at Camp Allegheny and Camp Blue Diamond, but as fun as camp was, I knew I wanted something different. I watched the Ken Burns documentary on Yosemite, and decided I needed to see this park. A week later a friend called to tell me about a guiding position in Yosemite. I soon moved to California to work as a hiking/backpacking guide in Yosemite National Park.
When I saw Yosemite Valley for the first time, it was unreal. The huge granite walls, the massive waterfalls. I couldn’t believe I was able to live in such a place. I fell for Yosemite hard. The winter sparkles in the Sierra Nevada. The summer smells of Bay Laurel, duff and smoke. Happiness can be fleeting and contentment can be elusive, but I found more of each in Yosemite than anywhere else. I ended up working seasonally in other places – bartending in Minnesota, waiting tables in the Caribbean, working at an art gallery in Colorado, but I always returned to Yosemite. I ended up being fortunate and frugal enough to buy land and build a small off-grid house, making the Yosemite area my permanent home. The day I decided to buy my land, I was sitting on a deck and two California Sister butterflies had landed on my leg. I said to myself, “If a third one lands…I’ll buy the property.” Well, the third sister landed, and I now have total faith in making decisions based on Lepidoptera behavior.
I now manage a small youth employment program located near the Park. It is still a type of guiding, and I get to take my youth into the Park on a near weekly basis. We work on interviewing skills, resumes, and on finding employment post-program. For many, seeking more seasonal jobs via CoolWorks is a great next step, as housing is often provided, and a personal vehicle is not always necessary. It brings me great joy to see young people realize that traveling and saving money can actually go hand in hand with seasonal work. CoolWorks has the ability to change a life’s trajectory for the better – one must only be willing to make the leap.