Diverse group tackles community projects
By Sandra Strieby
For the first time since 2019, an Americorps team is at work in the Methow Valley.
The AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) program offers participants a chance to get their hands dirty, and Team Gold 3 has been doing just that since they arrived nearly nine weeks ago. Both on and off the TwispWorks campus, the team is contributing to the community as well as developing skills that will support their own growth and development as human beings and members of the work force.
The NCCC was formed in 1992, and became part of Americorps when that agency was created in 1993. The agency’s mission is “To improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering.” The NCCC provides young people an avenue through which they can serve communities and develop leadership skills while working as part of a team.
Originally membership was limited to 18- to 24-year-olds; the CARES Act expanded eligibility to include people aged 25 and 26. All told, more than a million people have served in Americorps since its inception.
The 2023 team comprises eight corps members and a team leader: Ahanna Onyenso of Houston, Dennis Latosh of Philadelphia, Emma Allen of Mitchell, South Dakota, Jovon Durham of White Plains, Maryland, Julian Goodrich of Baltimore, Katherine Spurger of McKinney, Texas, Michael Niklas of Springfield, Virginia, Mimi Henderson of New Orleans, and Shyanne Shogrin of Centropolis, Kansas.
The team members have been together since October and will complete their term of service next month, graduating on July 13. Before landing in the Methow, they worked on river restoration in Idaho, built a fence that will enable the Heart of Idaho Animal Sanctuary to accommodate stock in case of wildfire, and worked on community gardens and served in a food bank in California.
A tradition of service
The current team is the sixth to serve in the Methow. Tori Karpenko, TwispWorks Director of Campus Operations, said “The AmeriCorps teams make a huge impact in the community by bringing a dynamic group of young people from all over the country who are focused on service learning. The host organizations all benefit from a shot in the arm with a significant boost in people power. Team members also do additional volunteer service in the community.”
Since their local service began in mid-April, the team members have completed an impressive volume of work. As the project sponsor, “TwispWorks partners with additional local nonprofits to create a diverse learning experience for the team. During orientation the first week we evaluate the best fit based on team member interest and the supervision capacity of each nonprofit. Adjustments are made as needed so that everyone gets a chance to work and learn in different environments,” said Karpenko.
This year, projects include soil preparation at the Classroom in Bloom garden, fence building at the Methow Housing Trust’s new development in Winthrop, and trail maintenance in areas affected by wildfires and associated slides. At TwispWorks, the team is continuing a years-long tradition of contributing to campus development and maintenance. Team members have been remodeling, roofing, and painting buildings, and completely rebuilt the lumber storage building after it failed under last winter’s heavy snows. They’ve also planted trees, maintained the landscape, and beautified the campus entrance on Glover Street.
In addition to working on projects together, team members have specific roles within the group, taking responsibility for vehicle safety and tools, health and wellness, or the group’s independent service commitment, for instance. This summer, team members fulfilled their local service commitment with work for the Aero Methow Rescue Service.
Asked what drew them to Americorps, team members had varied responses. “I’ve always done community service,” said Shogrin, who was attracted to Americorps by the opportunity to “travel for free and give back to communities.”
Allen graduated from college in May of last year. Uncertain of what she wanted to do, she began exploring opportunities to spend a gap year volunteering. A professor suggested Americorps. Henderson, who joined Americorps after a year of college, spoke of her desire “to better communities around America.”
Team leader Niklas is completing his second year of Americorps service. He joined the corps after graduating from college, saying he’d enjoyed his service experience in college and didn’t feel ready to commit to a career. He had “a great time,” he said, enjoying being part of a team, working outside, learning, and helping out. That first year inspired him to re-up in a leadership role —“a much different experience,” he said, and, again, “a good experience.”
Besides work and community service, the team has found time to explore north central Washington, visiting Leavenworth, Diablo Lake, and the Winthrop hatchery, hiking, and taking in the rodeo, Twisp’s Art Walk, the Methow Valley Farmers Market, and a performance of “The Wizard of Oz.”
Group living has helped the team members bond. Unlike previous billets, in which they had private rooms, their house in the Methow is small, with two bedrooms and a single bathroom. “We somehow make it work,” said Spurger. Others agreed, citing evenings spent socializing rather than retreating to their own quarters.
Summer of growth
The work they’ve done has benefitted them, too, the volunteers said. “I’ve grown a lot in a couple of months,” Shogrin said. The work she’s done has “broadened my perspective to nonprofit work [and] opened my world to more techniques” for getting things done, as she’s worked with power tools and assembled an irrigation system, she said.
“I feel like this experience has made me more confident [with] new people and situations and different kinds of work,” said Spurger. “It’s good for preparing yourself to live alone without parents … living with yourself,” said Dennis Latosh. “It also prepares you for a real job.”
Team members expressed sincere appreciation for the warm welcome they’ve received in the Methow, and encouraged others aged 18 to 26 to consider joining Americorps. Interested? Learn more at https://americorps.gov/serve/americorps.