Otis & Friends 2

I’m Otis, Prairiewoods’ favorite squirrel, and I’ve taken over this blog for 2016 in honor of Prairiewoods’ 20th anniversary. You’ll hear from me or one of my friends each Friday.

Last month, I introduced you to Katie Gerhart, a student at Coe College and an AmeriCorps intern at Prairiewoods. I told Katie about how I came to be associated with Prairiewoods. (I begged for food at the kitchen door, the cooks fed me their delicious food and I became quite recognizable by my ever-growing belly.) Then Katie told me about how she got connected with this place of peace and transformation …

I became associated with Prairiewoods because I was interested in getting connected with the community while going to school in Cedar Rapids. After inquiring about becoming a part of the Iowa College AmeriCorps (ICAP) program at Coe College, a college counselor suggested that I meet with Jenifer Hanson, Director of Prairiewoods, to determine if Prairiewoods was the right place for me. Since the ICAP program requires a student to work a minimum of 300 service hours over the course of an academic year, it was important for me to find a place where I felt my skills and interests would be highlighted. After viewing the grounds and meeting with Jenifer, I decided on the spot that Prairiewoods would be an ideal place to volunteer long-term.

Katie GerhartMy ultimate decision was based on two outstanding principles of Prairiewoods that I experienced directly: a welcoming atmosphere and an unprecedented commitment to environmental sustainability.

Upon first entering the center, I immediately felt welcomed by the physicality of the space. The wide, open layout and ample sunlight made me feel warm, while the quiet work of others lent the space to an air of calm commitment. Prairiewoods showed itself to be contrary of the hectic hustle and bustle of a regular office setting; it seemed to me that this place of business really wasn’t a business at all, but a somewhat sacred place created with the primary intention of providing relaxation, reflection, and peace.

My initial feelings were affirmed as Jenifer began to tell me about the mission of Prairiewoods as it relates to fostering a close-knit, ecumenical community with sustainable programs and practices at the core.

I was quite impressed by Prairiewoods’ apparent commitment to environmental sustainability, as evidenced by its proud LEED Gold Standard plaque and frequent use of suntubes. However, in my meeting with Jenifer I came to understand that it’s the behind-the-scenes work of Prairiewoods that makes its environmental commitment so meaningful. I learned about the composting system, the use of reusable towels and napkins, the I-Renew Education Center, and the solar panels. The attention to detail—from using eco-friendly cleaning products to repurposing recyclables—was astounding. As an Environmental Studies student at college, I was awed and inspired to be better about not only the way I act in response to environmental issues, but to be more wholesome in the way I think about issues as well.

Prairiewoods made an amazing first impression on me and as I continue to work with the wonderful people involved in making Prairiewoods great, I am excited to continue to grow as an environmentally-conscious, thoughtful, and reflective individual.

—Katie Gerhart, Prairiewoods’ 2015–2016 Intern