AmeriCorps gave LaBria Lane ‘wiggle room’ to hone skills and try new things

LaBria Lane sits at her desk.
A human dynamo who graduated from high school with three associate’s degrees, former AmeriCorps member LaBria Lane now works for the Genesee Conservation District. Photo: Cristina Wright

Working in a community garden filled with children — and tomatoes, squash and flowers — is LaBria Lane’s favorite memory of her FoodCorps/AmeriCorps service assignment at Flint’s Brownell-Holmes STEM Academy.

“We had a hoop house and several smaller gardens in the school’s courtyards. We grew so many tomatoes in the big garden, we were able to send them home with the kids and share them with the neighbors,” she said. Planting seedlings in the school’s greenhouse — and watching them grow into plants large enough to transfer into the gardens — was a great way to engage her younger students, she added.

As a member of the Flint FoodCorps, Lane used the gardens as a way of fulfilling her charge to create “a healthy school, where every child is nourished and ready to learn.”

Lane particularly enjoyed creating activities for older students.  “It’s a hard time for them,” she said of the middle-school years. “There wasn’t enough programming for that age group back then, so I asked the education staff at the Ruth Mott Foundation to help me put together cooking classes and demonstrations for them. They enjoyed it, and it turned out to be very successful.”

The AmeriCorps experience put me in a position to challenge myself.” LaBria Lane

She also found support for her work through the school’s community education program, operated by the Crim Fitness Foundation. Kerry Downs, then the community school director for Brownell-Holmes, was especially supportive of Lane’s efforts to help parents and neighborhood residents understand AmeriCorps and its mission in the school.

“It’s always tough when you first begin,” she said of her first few weeks at the school. “The AmeriCorps experience put me in a position to challenge myself — to create a curriculum for different classes, to build relationships with the teachers and the kids.

“I learned to be more persistent, to push back when something happened to break my spirit. I learned how great it feels to push through a situation and to serve as a positive role model for the students.”

Lane joined AmeriCorps “because there’s so much to gain in that space,” she said.

“There’s wiggle room to learn, especially from your mistakes. That’s not something most work places can offer.  As a member, you get to spread your wings — test and try new things, meet new people. AmeriCorps is full of passionate people who want to serve their community. And, because of that, AmeriCorps is of value to every community they’re rooted in.”

Now the conservation coordinator for the Genesee Conservation District’s Urban Agriculture Conservation program, Lane also works as a recruiter for FoodCorps in Flint and Detroit.  She has applied to Michigan State University (MSU) to complete her undergraduate degree. As a student at Mott Middle College High School in Flint, she graduated with three associate’s degrees in science, art and general studies.

“I’m waiting to see if I’m accepted,” she said of her application to MSU, where she’s hoping to earn a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, food and natural resources education. “I’ll have to go part-time, but that degree is exactly what I want to do with my life.”