Many of us fondly remember summer jobs from our high school and college days, internships that helped us figure out what career path we wanted to follow (or not follow) and opportunities that shaped the purpose of our lives today. At Friends of the Rappahannock we know that the best way to learn about something is to be wholeheartedly immersed in it. In recent years, we have tried to apply this concept to our internship and fellowship programs. 

Over this past year we have had a number of talented interns and fellows immersed in FOR’s offices and programming. I have had the unique opportunity to work with them all and see them grow, but also see them challenge the organization to do more and be more for our community. 

Thanks to our partners at the PATH Foundation, we were able to work with two Virginia Tech students during a seven week program over the summer.Collaborating with our Education Manager, they were able to provide education programming to local youth, lend a hand to our River Steward for restoration projects, and gain real-life workplace experience. I asked them to describe their time at FOR in a brief sentence and one responded, 

“Working with FOR to me means fixing the problems of today while focusing on possibilities of the future. I love trying to make meaningful impacts to our ecosystem so that near the end of my life it will still be here and thriving” .

Another amazing internship we have been able to support is that of our GIS Intern. Geographic Information System Mapping (GIS) is a niche that supports many of our restoration projects and planning for the future. Our current intern, Sarah Kerner has taken the role to new heights as she partnered with local government agencies and community members to study urban heat islands and how they might be affecting the region of Fredericksburg and its surrounding jurisdictions. Sarah got involved as a volunteer with FOR as an undergraduate student at the University of Mary Washington in 2019 and since has become an amazing asset to our organization.

Interning with FOR has prepared me for a career by structuring my work tasks with project management and working with organizations and coworkers to create maps that fit their criteria. I have gained experience through helping run events and collaborating with others to get tasks done as well.”

In addition to her work on Urban Heat Islands, Sarah has collaborated with FOR staff to build a print and digital interactive Upper Rappahannock Water Trails Map. This map will further support our education and restoration efforts while acting as visual evidence of how advocating for public access and environmental experiences can continue to support the river.

This fall we also introduced our first Virginia Conservation Fellow, Krystal Lightell who is an absolute powerhouse. Krystal started the semester participating in what can only be called “FOR bootcamp”.

“Everyone on the staff has taken the time to introduce me to not one, but many aspects to running an environmental non-profit organization such as restoration projects, education, advocacy, and social media. As a fellow, I have had the chance to dip my feet in many different projects that have taught me skills I can use in my future endeavors.”  

Through this “bootcamp” she has had the opportunity to really discover what aspects of environmental work she is passionate for and next semester will continue by working on her own project to support the organization and river.

We’ve also had the opportunity to hire some prior interns to full time positions within the organization.  Heather Strother previously worked part time with FOR as an Environmental Education Assistant during our Summer Camps. Having volunteered with the organization numerous times, she fell in love with the staff and the mission the organization held. We were thrilled to invite her back in collaboration with Chesapeake Bay Waterkeepers as the York River Steward. While she has loved the outdoors since she was little, Heather shared,

I didn’t comprehend the disconnect between a lot of folks and nature until I was in high school, so I hoped to bring that connection back through education and outreach. FOR has wonderful resources through experiential learning and people, so it only solidified my interest in the environmental field.”

Since becoming the York River Steward, Heather has had opportunities to use the skills she learned from her time at AmeriCorps and FOR to support her role in sharing resources and education with her watershed. Check out her York River Steward social media (Facebook & Instagram) and follow her as she continues to educate the Mattaponi and York River Watershed community about ways they can protect and support their watershed.

These young professionals continue to amaze me and our staff with their accomplishments and hopes for the future. Reading this article, I hope you are hit by the fact that while FOR has been able to provide these opportunities for these individuals, it is truly the individuals who have garnered such enthusiasm and progress for the Rappahannock and the environmental sector. I think Sarah explained it best. “FOR has given me an opportunity to work with amazing people while doing the thing I love: helping the environment.”



To learn more about our Internship opportunities, visit our website at


Written by Communication Coordinator Carleigh Starkston, last modified Nov 2022


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