By Sarah Schrock
If you’ve noticed a crew of young, unfamiliar faces around town, they are a group of AmeriCorps volunteers here to work with on variety of community service projects. Taking up residence at the TwispWorks bunkhouse for the third year in a row, AmeriCorps volunteers have helped build and beautify the community through long hours of volunteer labor.
This year’s 12-person crew members are new to Washington state, hailing from communities primarily east of the Rockies including Connecticut, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New York and Kansas. Over the course a year this traveling band of young people, ages 18-25, will visit four distinct communities for two months of hard work, on a volunteer stipend.
The work of volunteers is as diverse as the members themselves. So far the group has done backbreaking work in the Mojave Desert repairing and building trails, and then went on to do individual tax preparations in Sacramento. Each member became a certified tax preparer. Upon completion of their service, they will be eligible for an educational scholarship for post-secondary education or to repay student loans, but that’s not what motivates them to serve.
What these young people are doing isn’t easy. They leave the familiarity of home, family and community, get thrown into with group of strangers with whom they live, work and travel in tight, often uncomfortable quarters for a year. Every seven weeks they move on to a new assignment, unbeknownst to them.
They are required to take on responsibilities within the group, such as communications, logistics, or safety, thus developing new skills. Physical training in the morning builds their bodies and develops discipline and camaraderie to keep their spirits up and morale strong. A peer leader is appointed to each group to act as a counselor and confidant, helping them navigate emotions arising from the stress of homesickness, culture shock, and change.
Just as their work assignments are diverse, so are their individual motivations for joining. For some it’s a way out of a home or community environment that’s keeping them from moving forward in life. Amari, from Charlotte, North Carolina, who is assigned the position of vehicle safety and tool manager, said his motivation for joining was to “build a better self.” He felt he wasn’t doing anything positive at home and needed something to help him move forward in his life, so AmeriCorps offered a way to experience a new world. He noted how he has enjoyed the cultural diversity he’s experienced in meeting other volunteers from around the country and world, and in the communities he’s served.
AmeriCorps was started in 1993 under the Clinton administration through the signing of the National Community Service Act, and was built upon the legacy and successes of the Civilian Conservation Corps, VISTA and Peace Corps. While AmeriCorps is part of the war on poverty and supposed to serve communities at high risk, for some members who join the call to serve it’s their way to break the cycle of poverty that binds them. For others it’s a beginning to their educational or professional path.
It can be a placeholder for young people not quite ready to embark on their career or college, and who feel compelled to serve. It helps them build self-confidence, opens their minds to new ways of life, develops leadership, and builds new skills as well as opens up a network of work connections previously inaccessible from their home communities.
If I may speak for Twisp, we are happy to have these young, able bodies toiling away in the unexpected heat to make our community shine a little bit more. As a host community, it’s our duty to appreciate their work and their service. If you see one of these crew members out and about over the next few weeks, thank them for their service, invite them for a home meal or take them to coffee — because as a former Peace Corps volunteer myself, I can attest that the best part of service is the warmth and welcome bestowed upon the volunteer on behalf of the communities they serve that make the experience worth it.