Joanel Lopez earned his degree in Environmental Science from Binghamton University but he earned his love of nature and preserving it from his time outdoors.
Growing up in New York City didn’t provide many outdoor opportunities except for working with the city parks after school programs and studying environmental science in college. All the time he was constantly looking for an opportunity to work full-time outdoors, and in nature. After applying to many different opportunities, in 2013, he found the Bridging Cultures Conservation Corps Crew with Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) which worked with the US Forest Service on projects in and around Montana. Many opportunities Joanel looked at had requirements that he did not fit such as age and experience. MCC’s program was different, it was an AmeriCorps program that did not have any age limit and required no prior experience. Joanel applied. Was accepted. Informed them that he is Deaf. And then MCC began to scramble how to provide services for a program that lasts 5 to 6 months, that requires heavy training, often times is in remote back country locations. How should they communicate? Should they hire interpreters? Can they write back and forth? Gesture? Or… ? They didn’t know. While they were open to learning and best supporting Joanel’s experience; educating, explaining, and advocating fell on his shoulders. MCC turned to Joanel’s expertise. Joanel was asked to partake in this challenging experience while at the same time educate his supervisors, crew leaders, corps members, project contacts about how to work together so that he had a successful and rewarding experience. Just like his fellow corps members had access to but without all of that extra work.
From that experience, Joanel was prepared for the challenges that lay head when working outdoors. Making connections with the Forest Service during his time in Montana as well as having direct experience working for MCC, Joanel was ready to apply to different Forest Service jobs around the country. Spending a cold slow Montana winter looking for work, then moving around for seasonal jobs, he finally found a permanent position in Vermont with the Green Mountain National Forest in the Manchester Ranger District as a Forestry Technician.
While he has a personal passion for working outdoors, he also is focused on supporting more opportunities for youth to get outside, work with their hands and experience the opportunities that he has had. With his fellow co-worker, Holly Knox, as well as the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, Joanel has been involved with setting up a week-long program for students at his alma mater, Lexington School for the Deaf. During the school year, students come out to Joanel’s District, for a week, to learn about his job, and how to work outdoors with the Forest Service. Because of this program and his hard efforts, Vermont Youth Conservation Corps is now in its second year of running an ASL Inclusion Crew that works on Forest Service projects during their summer programming.
Joanel works two jobs expertly. Forest Technician. And self-advocate. Supplying his co-workers with DVD’s on ASL and Deaf Culture, the majority of them can sign and communicate more fluidly than just writing back and forth when there is no interpreter present. Always taking on this double role has paid off with co-workers and employers who now better understand inclusion, but his primary passion and expertise is what shines through. When asking Joanel about the forest or his job, he quickly supplies you with facts, knowledge and different perspectives on environmental conservation. Watching him outdoors, working amongst the trees is where you can see him at peace.
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