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Meet the first cohort of the MI Healthy Climate Corps

As one of 30 inaugural members of the MI Healthy Climate Corps (MHC Corps), Jessica Austin of Grand Rapids knows how things get done: “When the mission is passion-driven, we can all work together to achieve the purpose.”

Jessica Austin at MI Healthy Climate Corps orientation session in Detroit.

Jessica Austin at MI Healthy Climate Corps orientation session in Detroit.


That could be a slogan for the corps, a new statewide network of climate professionals committed to Michigan’s sustainable future and their host communities and organizations. The corps’ first cohort has just embarked on its eight-month mission to advance state climate goals in the MI Healthy Climate Plan (MHCP).

Corps members serve through the federal AmeriCorps agency for national service and volunteerism and are paired with host partners in state agencies, local governments, universities, and nonprofit organizations from all over Michigan, from metro Detroit to West Michigan to the Upper Peninsula. (A full list of hosts and their locations is below.) Members earn a living stipend and benefit from career-focused networking, training, and professional experience.

Austin is serving the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) in Grand Rapids as a climate solutions advocate, encouraging community participation to tackle climate change. She brings to the table a degree in occupational safety and health management from Grand Valley State University, professional experience, entrepreneurial skills from starting her own healthy food business, and a badge of honor as a Grand Rapids Business Journal 40 Under 40 honoree.

Also serving in Grand Rapids is Ann Arbor native Marley Wolff, a climate research and engagement specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Office of Public Lands. She’s researching the state's Michigan the Beautiful initiative to protect 30% of state lands and waters by 2030, surveying conversation efforts statewide and creating community engagement materials.

Marley Wolff of MI Healthy Climate Corps is a climate research and engagement specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Public Lands.

Marley Wolff of MI Healthy Climate Corps is a climate research and engagement specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Public Lands.


“We are at a tipping point, and all of our futures are at stake,” Wolff said. “It’s so encouraging to see so many of us making serious positive change.”

Or, as corps member Brion Dickens of Lynn Township puts it as he transitions from a 25-year career as a building contractor, “I've walked the walked and talked the talk so long my feet and tongue are tired. But I'm not stopping or shutting up.” Dickens serves as a renewable energy planner for the City of East Lansing.

Corps members represent a varied and skilled cross section of Michiganders – and even a few out-of-staters. Here’s a snapshot:

  • At least five call Grand Rapids or East Grand Rapids their hometown or most recent residence. Three hail from Ann Arbor, two from Detroit, and one each from numerous locations around Michigan and from Boston, Massachusetts; Cary, Illinois; and Omaha, Nebraska.
  • Asked about pastimes, six said they enjoy hiking, walking, and enjoying the outdoors. Members’ more unconventional hobbies include photographing empty parking lots, doing aerial silks, playing the sport of Futsal, pole vaulting, skydiving, and seeking adventure around the world.
  • At least five are current undergraduate or graduate university students. Nine have or are pursuing degrees in environmental studies. Other fields of study include social work and sociology; business, public, and nonprofit administration; urban planning; sustainability; energy systems; biology and microbiology; industrial and operations engineering; occupational safety and health; dietetics; and Mandarin.
  • Many are just starting or looking ahead to careers, while others have long resumes or are switching fields. In addition to Dickens’ quarter century as a building contractor, one has eight years’ experience as a city commissioner, and another has more than a decade of experience in community organizing.
  • At least three including Austin are entrepreneurs, starting businesses or advocacy organizations installing native plant gardens, promoting healthy foods, and supporting improved infrastructure for pedestrians, cyclists, people with disabilities, and mass transit users.
  • Their chosen career fields and goals include improving affordable housing in Michigan by creating and supporting co-ops; modernizing our energy grid for a just transition to renewables through technology and regulation; becoming an environmental justice attorney; protecting Great Lakes shorelines and native plants and animals; preventing the incursion of invasive species; joining the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) or the DNR; becoming an ecologist or wildlife biologist; and working “alongside members of my community that are committed to creating a better world for all of us.”

MHC Corps member assignments address the following focus areas in the MHCP: centering environmental justice and a just transition, cleaning the electric grid, electrifying vehicles and increasing public transit, repairing and decarbonizing homes and businesses, driving clean innovation in industry, and protecting Michigan’s lands and waters.

More about the corps

The Office of Climate and Energy (OCE) in EGLE launched the MHC Corps in partnership with the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity’s Michigan Community Service Commission. The nonprofit Community Economic Development Association of Michigan manages the corps.

The MHC Corps predates a similar federal American Climate Corps program, also through AmeriCorps and other partners. Like the Michigan corps, it promises not only progress toward climate goals but the development of a skilled workforce to support the transition to a cleaner economy.

The new MHC Corps members also join a larger cohort of AmeriCorps members advancing climate action across Michigan. As of 2024, more than 200 AmeriCorps members in a total of eight programs are engaged in direct climate action and environmental conservation throughout the state.

In fall 2024, the MHC Corps’ second cohort will begin an 11-month service term. The corps expects to offer additional community support and service opportunities throughout the state in future years.

Prospective host partners, corps members, and anyone interested in supporting the program can find more information and sign up to receive updates on the MHC Corps’ webpage.

Corps assignments span state

One MHC Corps member is serving with each of the following host partners through mid-November:

  • Ann Arbor: Washtenaw County Facilities Management Department.
  • Bellaire: Antrim Conservation District.
  • Detroit: Detroit city government, Detroit 2030 District, Detroit Future City, Let's Grow Michigan, Michigan Saves, Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan, and Transportation Riders United.
  • East Lansing: East Lansing city government.
  • Elk Rapids: Elk Rapids village government.
  • Flint: The Everly Collective.
  • Grand Rapids: West Michigan Environmental Action Council and Calvin University Plaster Creek Stewards.
  • Ingham County: Spartan Housing Cooperative.
  • Kalamazoo: Kalamazoo city government.
  • Lansing: Lansing city government, Clean Fuels Michigan, Lansing Board of Water & Light, League of Michigan Bicyclists, Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, and Michigan DNR Office of Public Lands.
  • Marquette: Marquette County government and Superior Watershed Partnership.
  • River Rouge: City of River Rouge Community Development Department.
  • Traverse City: SEEDS Ecology and Education Centers and East Bay Charter Township government.
  • Waterford Township: Oakland County government.
  • Two additional positions serve EGLE’s OCE.