Foreword & questions by John Streit. Answers & photos courtesy of Katie Keane.

No one I know embodies the concept of “Adventure Is Where The Heart Is” more than Katie Keane. The Virginia Beach native possesses an inherent spirit for the outdoors, as well as a deeper calling for helping others and public service. That’s not surprising, as she’s witnessed her father — a firefighter, flight paramedic and leader for FEMA’s Virginia Task Force 2 — respond to nightmare emergencies at the Oklahoma City bombing of 1997, the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 and the Haitian earthquake of 2010. The latter scenario, which unfolded just before her last year of pursuing a public relations degree from Virginia Commonwealth University with the hopes of forging a career in Major League Baseball, had a significant and lasting impact on Katie’s career path. After reevaluating her goals, she realized that contributing to the Greater Good was her true calling. From there, she joined the nonprofit Ten Thousand Villages immediately after college; but soon sought out the more expansive challenges offered by AmeriCorps — a federal public service organization that provides hands-on assistance to nonprofits, schools, public agencies and communities across the United States — and departed for a 10-month tour of duty in the Midwest. After returning to Virginia Beach and Surf & Adventure Co. in 2013-2014, Katie embarked on her latest round of adventures in AmeriCorps, which currently has her stationed in Los Angeles. We recently caught up with this all-star human for insight into her unique lifestyle; blending selfless service with outdoor adventure!

Surf & Adventure: I know without a doubt that your two driving passions are being outside and helping people! Describe what it means to you to achieve both through AmeriCorps.

Katie Keane: It means everything. I have attempted to do the “real world” or “big girl” job multiple times since graduating college. It’s not that I didn’t love and appreciate those jobs for what they were, but I am still pretty young, and the thought of being stuck indoors when there’s so much world to see and experience kills me. AmeriCorps has given me this incredible opportunity to travel to new communities — some small, some massive — and learn from people from all walks of life, all while giving back.

S&A: Last summer, you served in Wyoming at Grand Teton National Park, which I have only seen through photos and videos. Does anything compare to being there to see it for yourself?

KK: My uncle has lived in Jackson, Wyoming for almost 15 years now. He has always tried to get my family to visit through sending photos and telling stories. But really, nothing prepared me for the adventure that was the Tetons. One of the greatest things about this adventure was that my uncle lived there. Each Sunday, he and I would explore different peaks and new trails — one of my favorites had to be Table Top Mountain. The 14-mile trail started in Idaho and had us hiking through snow fields, scree and talus. It was all worth it to reach the summit and come eye to eye with The Grand, the tallest mountain in the Teton Range. Like most hikes, or most strenuous things during my time there, the view was worth the struggle.

S&A: Take us through a day in your life in Wyoming.

KK: Each morning, I would wake up with the chance of seeing a fox or even a moose at my window, and each evening I would fall asleep to wolves howling at the back of the canyon. My days were spent hiking through the Tetons, teaching students about geological features and the history of the park — and nothing’s like the first time they spot wildlife ahead. On the weekends, my cohort and I would find ourselves hiking up to lakes covered in ice, standup paddleboarding or rock climbing. There was never a dull moment this summer, and everyone ended the day with laughter and smiles, no matter how close to death they came that day.


In light of her father's service with FEMA Virginia Task Force 2 at the World Trade Center disaster in 2001, 9-11 Service Day is a special one for Katie Keane.
Katie and her team venture through Grand Teton National Park's Inspiration Point.
Top of Canyon View, Wyoming.
Hiking Black Tail Butte with students.
High camp in Low Saddle of the Grand Tetons, Wyoming.
Canoe 101 in the Grand Tetons, Wyoming.
Summertime snow high in the Grand Tetons.
Wyoming Peak hike with Katie's uncle.
Fire safety class with some young student.
Phelps Lake, Wyoming.
Katie and her uncle take in Table Top Mountain, Wyoming.
Cascade Canyon, Wyoming.
Katie's team lunch breaking in Palos Verdes, California.
Inspecting abalone tide pools in Palos Verdes.
Pelican Cove Overlook, California.

S&A: After the Tetons, it was off to Cali! How’s that for cultural/environmental contrast?

KK: It definitely took me a minute to adjust. I hate to admit it, but I definitely cried when I left Wyoming. But Sacramento was another adventure I was excited to have. My first weekend there, my team and I explored Lake Folsom (of course I visited the prison and blasted Johnny Cash — call me cheesy all you want!), went to Lake Tahoe  and even made it to a Sacramento Triple-A Baseball game. Sacramento reminds me a lot of Richmond, which is where I went to school and lived for a few years before this AmeriCorps life took off. The city is two hours from the ocean and San Francisco, and two hours from the mountains and Lake Tahoe. Every week there is something going on culturally and there are endless opportunities to shop and support local businesses. Sacramento is definitely missing the trees and high mountain peaks, but there’s still hidden treasures that I have enjoyed finding.

S&A: Tell us about your current position in Los Angeles! How did you land the gig and how’s it going so far?

KK: After the holiday break, I received the news that I was getting a team of my own to lead! To add the excitement, we would be serving in Rolling Hills Estates, California, which is about 30 minutes from downtown L.A. (if traffic allows, haha!). One of the things I love about AmeriCorps NCCC, is that you really have no idea where they will send you. Of course, the five campuses serve within 10 states, but other than that you kind of have to just sit and wait to hear where they’ll be sending your team. The process is pretty lengthy, and I don’t want to bore you with all of it, but basically an organization submits an application for a team, and once its approved, the office decides which team would be the best fit for the job. A lot of factors can go into it: numbers of the crew, combined experience and overall morale. The project we are currently serving is with the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy. Over our 10-week time here, we have been helping to plant native plants along the coast. These natives help the land in a variety ways, but one of the biggest is to help create a habitat for the endangered Palos Verdes Blue Butterfly. So far my team has planted almost 7,000 plants and restored about 97,000 feet of coastal shoreline. It’s amazing to see how much work can be accomplished with a team of hardworking, willing and passionate people.

S&A: What are the pros of AmeriCorps life? Any cons?

KK: AmeriCorps has a lot of pros: paid travel, lodging and meals. You also receive an education award of about $5,700 upon completion that can go towards school, loans or a trade you’re interested in. You get to travel to new communities, and meet incredible people along the way. You live, cook with, shop with, travel with, and work with the same team for the 10 months you serve. This can be difficult at times, living with your coworkers. You don’t choose your team, but you learn how to make it work and usually end up learning the best lessons from the biggest conflicts that may arise. One big con for me is that I, most days, feel pretty disconnected from home. I have missed a lot being away, friends’ weddings, my sister running her first half marathon, and time with my brother’s first child. There are days that I don’t text my friends back, and I go weeks without talking to my family. It’s never intentional — the days just seem to come and go so fast. I hate to say it, but I use social media way too much to keep up to date with all my friends and family back home. But, I have started to write more letters and postcards. I want to hear about the great things everyone is doing. It’s what keeps me motivated.


Katie loves her students!
9-11 Service Day.
Amphitheatre Lake, Wyoming.
Phelps Lake, Wyoming.
The baseball field from "The Sandlot" stoked Katie out!
Polaroids from The Grand Tetons.

S&A: What does the future hold for you?

KK: Haha, if only I knew! Does Rob have a job waiting for me back at S&A?! The last few months I have been working pretty hard on trying to land a job with the Corporation for National and Community Service, which is the agency that AmeriCorps falls under. This program has done a lot for me. I’m more confidant as a leader and have gained skills that I feel no classroom could really ever teach. I want to continue to be able to provide those same lessons to more young adults through working with the agency. My term however, ends in July, and I haven’t heard anything back. Some days it stresses me out, but lately I have been trying to appreciate the time in the position and in the places I am in now. So who knows, it may just be more travels ahead until I figure it out, which wouldn’t be the worst thing!

S&A: Anything else you’d like to add?

KK: I have reflected a lot lately, and this interview definitely helped with that. I feel very fortunate for the opportunities that I have had to travel and serve. I created the saying, “I want to save the world, one adventure at a time.” After serving with my team, I’m starting to realize that it’s not something I can do on my own, nor do I want to. My hope is that everyone has the opportunity to give back to a community, whether it’s their own or not. I’ll leave you with one of my most recently favored quotes. “We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill.

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