“Environmental health is community health”: VISTA Maya Mier-Thomas reflects on service with Friends of Deckers Creek


Maya Mier-Thomas has been serving as the Environmental Education AmeriCorps VISTA at Friends of Deckers Creek (FODC) since January 2020. Tasked with building capacity in FODC’s community engagement programs for adults and youth, Maya has spent her service organizing new ways to reach the community during the pandemic. From virtual learning events to physically distanced gardening with volunteers, Maya has done quite a bit during her service.  As she comes up on the end of the extension period of her year-long term of service, I had a chance to catch up with Maya about her experiences. 

Why did you choose to serve at Friends of Deckers Creek? 

I had moved back home to Morgantown to take care of my family during some health issues and was struggling to find environmental jobs in my area. I was working with a VISTA Leader in the area who knew I loved the environment. I had also heard of Friends of Deckers Creek before…everything worked out! I think it’s incredibly important that AmeriCorps does preventative environmental health and community work. You don’t treat healthcare only on an emergency basis, and the same should go for the environment.

Why would someone want to serve in AmeriCorps as a VISTA member? 

AmeriCorps service helps you regain an understanding of community and reminds you of your importance within a community. There are so many connections you can make if you want to put your heart and time into it, and there’s a huge payoff when you do. When you look back after, you’ll see it. Anyone that has a desire to be a part of a community and make positive change within their community would find AmeriCorps rewarding.

One thing I also learned from coming home to serve is that it’s important to get out of your bubble to gain perspective, but it’s interesting when you come back. It helps you check your biases, and get a better understanding of the world. We have the same basic needs regardless of where you go. Service in AmeriCorps reframes that in a new way.

What’s one thing that surprised you about your service? 

The thing that surprised me most was that I have found a comforting home in my work environment. It’s rewarding to have an environment where you can communicate and problem-solve together, and that is how my service has been. I have also gotten a first hand-understanding of my field, more than anything that I could have read in a textbook when I was studying. 

If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you started your service, what would it be? 

AmeriCorps gives you the opportunity to slow down. You have the time to gain a baseline knowledge of your community. Saying hi to your community members in public and getting to know them is incredibly valuable to your site and to the folks you’re talking to. Take things one step at a time and remember that you’re doing something incredible for your community. 

What three things make Friends of Deckers Creek a great place to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA?

  1. It’s an amazing team – extraordinarily positive, listening, everyone works together on everything. You learn together.
  2. Environmental jobs are an amazing way to give back to the community – both people and places. Environmental health is community health!
  3. Capacity building happens indoors and out… it’s a great opportunity for anyone who enjoys being outside! You can get your hands dirty building capacity in the office and at the Outdoor Learning Park gardening alongside volunteers! 

We at The Hub are appreciative all that Maya has accomplished over the last year and a half with Friends of Deckers Creek! 

Want to be a part of something incredible, like Maya talked about? Check out our open AmeriCorps VISTA positions here.

Erin Susman is The Hub’s Operations and VISTA Program Manager. You can reach her at e.susman@wvhub.org.

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