Gina De Naples, an AmeriCorps member serving with Virginia State Parks in York River State Park, has never allowed being hearing impaired to make a difference in how she has approached life and her commitment to service! Gina, a native of Greensboro, NC, served this year on the Virginia State Parks AmeriCorps Interpretive Trail Project. She received support of interpreters through the combined efforts of the Virginia State Parks (which operates within the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation), the Office of Volunteerism and Consumer Services (which operate within the Virginia Department of Social Services), and the Virginia Division for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Her term of service included program presentations, hiking programs, trail maintenance and environment preservation initiatives.
Gina Site Supervisor praised her ability to, not only complete all assignments with a positive attitude, but also showed immense growth in her interpretive skills with park visitors — especially the children — as the summer progressed. “Gina received signing assistance from an outside agency, but communication with park staff was primarily through the audio function of iPhone Notes where she would type her response as fast as others could speak.” Her Site Supervisor goes on to detail how much Gina has accomplished in her life — achieving a masters degree in Environmental Science from Rochester Institute of Technology, working in various locations across the county, and even hiking 700 miles of the Appalachian Trail by herself! He explains, “What finally stopped her was a broken ankle, although when it first happened, she thought she had only twisted so she walked about 50 more miles with it being broken! If that’s not True Grit I don’t know what is.”
Never afraid of a challenge, Gina took on leading one of the park’s most popular programs (Sunset Paddle) after observing it just once. She came to especially enjoy serving in a youth program called Kid Kamp which is designed to introduce and nurture youth to learn to appreciate nature and the environment. Although it was challenging to educate the interpreters to make certain they were on the same page, Gina’s amazing sense of humor and her humility made park guests thoroughly enjoy their park experience. One young girl gave Gina a hug and told her, “You are my favorite.”
It is very apparent that Gina excels at every challenge she encounters. She has been an inspiration to thousands of Virginia State Park guests and her abilities became well known within the State Park system. At the end of her service year, she reflected on her experience saying, “I like to think that I have given the 1,500 staff members a working lesson on how deaf people are not limited by what we can’t do – I have been able to execute every task given to me, and I feel that I have performed very well. I try to come on shift with a positive attitude, and even if I’m not feeling it that day, I throw in a dash of genuine Southern hospitality to make sure every single guest I come across leave with a positive impression of this park.”
Gina’s dreams of working in conservation and with land trusts, and as a park interpreter/naturalist have recently come true. She is now a Virginia State Park Staff Member serving as the Educational Support Specialist at Smith Mountain Lake State Park. Congratulations Gina and thank you for your service!