By Timna Varela
After switching from 84F to 69F, I realized that before leaving Roatan, and after arriving in the US, I did not imagine how my fellowship would be in the Green Mountain State, Vermont. The 2023 PFP Spring Program has granted me, through my host organization Kingdom Trails (KT), the opportunity to connect with a local non-profit with a well-structured working system, and located by the forest, my second favorite place in the world. KT is a non-profit and grassroots organization that provides recreation and outdoor education opportunities, a role model in working hand-in-hand with a whole community that appreciates and sustains the beautiful landscapes.
During a long road trip between states, I chatted with my immediate supervisor, Lukas, the contact person from KT who explained the key aspects of life in and around Vermont. Once we arrived at Burke, I could tour around the cozy lodge where I will stay for almost 4 weeks, surrounded by taller trees with chirping birds, and mountains with melting snow, all together as a natural getaway.
Day 1 was the perfect occasion for getting acquainted with the environment and context where KT works. He introduced me to the KT work and its Fundraiser Coordinator when walking through the Loop, Cupcake, and the Wood n’ You trails. Both of them described the recreational services KT offers, how the projects are sustained, and ways to engage the community.
Everything has gone smoothly when visiting the surroundings in Burke. My favorite moment of the day was the visit to Lake Willoughby and the Burke Mountain Ski area. Those two places illustrated for me that besides being wonderful landscapes, they possess community members that either support and/or benefit from the programs run by KT in the forest.
When we returned to town, I was introduced to the other staff member in the Welcome Center. I was surprised by how they organized the shop on the first floor and managed to create self-sustainable strategies for income at the shop. For instance, they sell either seasonal products needed by bikers or visitors and tokens/souvenirs, while at the same time tracking possible supporters. Later, we went upstairs and met more of the staff, and with two of them, we had lunch. I was impressed by the way they work within an intergenerational team, rely on each other, and create a collaborative environment. Each one of them demonstrated from their own perspective what it means to be a KT employee, with work balance and striving together towards the same goal.
Among all the lessons I learned today, the KT team reflects the type of working environment I aspire to implement with my staff. I have not yet met the leader who glues the staff and leads them to grow and succeed by having a work-life balance. According to them, she advises them to prioritize on their well-being and encourages them to go on a short walk or ride in the forest, a way to get inspired and cope with all challenges.
All opinions expressed by the program participants are their own and do not represent nor reflect official views from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, or of the Institute for Training and Development, Inc.