By Ken Benton, Education Director

From the very first moment Griffin Cumming walked through the door of NBNC last March, his contagious smile and unbridled enthusiasm melted the hearts of everyone he met.  Children instantly connected with him.  After only a couple days with him, staff overheard a minor argument between kids about who knew Griffin better.

Griffin is the latest in a long list of AmeriCorps members who have played a critical role in NBNC’s history of connecting people to the natural world. Like many AmeriCorps members, he came to North Branch with limited experience in the field of education, but some tangential work history and related coursework.  After speaking with Griffin, I could tell that he had a sincere interest in walking a few steps down this career path to see if it was the right fit for him.  Many college graduates find it difficult to actually land a job in their desired field, often lacking the experience for an entry level position.  They may also have an idea of the work they’d like to do but have a level of doubt.  In my mind, this is one of the greatest functions of the AmeriCorps program — allowing individuals to serve in a field of interest while gaining that valuable experience.  They either realize that this path isn’t the one for them, or if it is, their service can set them up for a job in the field after their AmeriCorps term has come to an end.  It is a safe and federally funded way to dip your toe in the water.

All of the AmeriCorps members that come to North Branch get to shadow veteran staff in the field in a variety of programs and work with a variety of ages — getting a full tasting menu of our programming.  I remember the first day that Griffin was with me for ECO (Educating Children Outdoors) up at Hardwick Elementary School.  Because of COVID concerns, we were still meeting children out in the forest rather than in the building, so we were standing in the woods waiting.  The whole time, Griffin was asking questions.  Logistics of what was about to happen.  The hows and the whys.  Striving to absorb and learn as much as he possibly could.  He was unafraid to ask questions — this is one of Griffin’s superpowers.

This power, coupled with a deep striving to better himself as an educator, has served Griffin well throughout his six months at NBNC.  He can now deftly lead a group of 16 rowdy seven and eight year olds, all hopped up on the joy of summer, guiding their discovery through play and wonder.  I will often sit out on the porch in the mornings as campers arrive, and one of my greatest joys this summer has been hearing Griffin’s voice over the din of all the cheerful children, making sure everyone is welcomed, safe, and heard. Children have a way of recognizing a good heart when they see one and they have seen Griffin’s from Day One.

Griffin is moving to the Burlington area now that his AmeriCorps service has come to an end.  However, I doubt that he will be leaving the field of education.  This experience has set him down the path of the educator — a path filled with inquiry and wonder.  I am sure wherever he lands next he will continue to grow and thrive.  Thank you for your joy, Griffin.  If your path ever makes a turn back to North Branch, you will be welcomed with open arms and smiling faces… and a bunch of contenders in the ‘who’s known Griffin the longest’ contest.