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The My AmeriCorps website provides a one-stop-shop for AmeriCorps State and National, VISTA and NCCC members and alumni - presenting a wealth of information and self-service capabilities, including access to the former AmeriCorps Online Payment System.

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Stories of Service

 

"Service is the rent we pay for living."

�Marian Wright Edelman

Read first-hand accounts from AmeriCorps members about their service.


 
AmeriCorps - Emily Buzzell
AmeriCorps NCCC
 

I believe that some of the richest people in this world are those who have so little. After I graduated from college last year, I decided to spend a year serving in the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps. As part of this team-based national service program, I travel around the country with my twelve teammates and work with various non-profit and charitable organizations. Our first project was in Biloxi, Mississippi, where we helped rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. We then worked in Sacramento, California, where we partnered with a Food Locker and handed out groceries to needy people. Our most recent project was on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where we facilitated programs for children at a Boys and Girls Club. In my adventures, I have interacted with so many people, from an elderly woman whose brother drowned in the Hurricane Katrina floodwaters to a young Lakota Sioux girl selling dream catchers outside the local gas station. I have not met many people who own fancy cars or go to Cancun for spring break, but I have met hundreds of people who abound with happiness, love, and appreciation of life and all its blessings.

There is Carolyn, the woman in Biloxi whose home we helped rebuild, the woman who lost her entire livelihood in the 30-foot storm surge. There is the man who came to pick up groceries at the Food Locker in Sacramento, the man who had no home address for us to verify when we gave him his monthly allotment of food. There is Kennedy, the 13-year-old girl who regularly came to the Boys and Girls Club in Pine Ridge and went home at night to the Reservation�s homeless shelter. Even though all three people lacked a basic life necessity � a home to call their own � they were rich with happiness and thankfulness for whatever little they did have.

Then there is Marlay. One evening in Biloxi, I saw two children playing in the street, so I stepped away from the construction site to kick a ball around with them. I was struck by how much Marlay smiled and laughed as the ball bounced on the pavement between us. In that particular neighborhood, two and a half years after Hurricane Katrina, a majority of the homes remained badly damaged and debris still littered the street. Even though Marlay had lost so much in the hurricane, he had not lost the gleam in his eye or the bright smile on his face. It was only when I offered him a soda did I realize that he had no arms � just misshapen hands attached to his trunk. As I watched him dunk his entire torso in the cooler of ice water just to retrieve a root beer, I felt like crying. Not only was Marlay growing up and playing in a neighborhood visibly marked by destruction, loss, and heartache, but he did not even have any arms.

That night, I spent a lot of time thinking about Marlay and all that he had and did not have. I believe that that little boy � a boy who was materially impoverished and physically disabled � was one of the richest little boys I have met. He was rich with laughter, rich with glee, and rich with appreciation of bouncy balls, root beer, and life. The joy he shared with me that late afternoon in Biloxi has made me so much wealthier than I otherwise ever could have been.

 

 
AmeriCorps - Jessica Dollar
New Hampshire Reads - Concord, NH
 

"I cannot preach like Martin Luther King, Jr. or turn a poetic phrase like Maya Angelou, but I care and am willing to serve.� This is an excerpt from a poem written by Marian Wright Edelman, but to me it is so much more than words on a page. It reflects my life and how being a part of NH Reads has changed it incredibly. Before joining NH Reads AmeriCorps in September 2006, I graduated from NHTI in Concord with a degree in Early Childhood Education. After graduating, I decided to search for work in my field before deciding on whether to continue my education. This search proved much harder than I ever expected. I spent 18 months going to interview after interview only to be rejected and told I did not have enough experience. In reality I believe the rejections had more to do with the fact that I was disabled and in a wheelchair. At one interview, the first question asked was if I was permanently in a wheelchair. When I answered yes, the interviewer said that I could observe children on the playground and another interview would be set up at a later date, which never happened.

Just when I was about to give up on my dream of working with children, everything changed! I went for my interview for NH Reads AmeriCorps. From the onset both Peg Downing and Carol Mauceri were open to working with me despite my disability. They saw beyond my wheelchair and looked at my potential and me. They willingly discussed adaptations that would be needed for me to be successful and these did not seem to faze them at all. During my initial interview, I explained that I was currently carpooling with family and not driving much on my own so transportation might be a challenge. Again, Peg and Carol were willing to work with these limitations.� Having Peg and Carol give me a chance meant more to me than words can express and this was just the beginning.

Since I was hired and began my service with NH Reads, I have become so much more confident, independent and have experienced more freedom than I ever have in my whole life. Although it was very scary to me, getting this job forced me to drive on my own, which I had never done before. Although I had my license, I rarely drove prior to joining AmeriCorps, and then only with one of my parents. Driving alone was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I even find myself enjoying driving and look forward to driving myself to work. I truly believe this would not have happened had I not been given this chance to serve.

The other way that NH Reads has changed the quality of my life is because of the people I have met at NH Reads and the people that I am surrounded each day in the Community Action building. For example the office that Peg Downing, the director of NH Reads works in, had a door that was too narrow for my wheelchair to get through, so when I needed to talk to her I had to hang out in the hallway. I am used to such inaccessibility, but others in the building felt differently and before long, Doma Watson, the facility manager, quickly remedied the problem. Peg�s office door was widened and Peg quickly rearranged her office to accommodate me. The bathrooms at this facility were not wheelchair accessible either. Without me even asking, Doma and his work crew totally remodeled one bathroom from the floor up. They worked all week and into the weekend to get the job done. The bathroom is beautiful and it is so wonderful to be able to move about the building without struggling. These accommodations were made possible, in part, through grant funds through the State AmeriCorps office

NH Reads has allowed me to give back to my community and although I am not able to serve in the military like so many others have, this is a way I can give back to my country. With the exception of my parents, I have never had so many people support me. It has been truly life changing to be a part of NH Reads AmeriCorps and as a result �I care and am willing to serve.�

 

 
AmeriCorps - Becky Whitfield
AmeriCorps*NCCC
 

It has been more than 540 days since the worst national disaster in U.S. history hit Mississippi. I've met so many amazing people. So strong. So hardworking, and still with a sense of humor. I love them.

My name is Becky Whitfield, and I am 23 years old. I graduated from Waubonsie Valley High School in 2003. Today, I live in Pascagoula, Miss., at Operation TLC Volunteer Center with my eight AmeriCorps/NCCC crew mates. Every day we help our Mississippi neighbors who are still trying to put their lives back together after Hurricane Katrina.

The one person who has captivated my heart is Don "Dink" Purdy.

Dink, 78, was born and raised in Pascagoula. I met him at the house he's lived in since 1935. He has a deep love for playing the stand-up bass and writing books on music theory. His 78-year-old home sits three blocks inland from the Gulf of Mexico. Two weeks ago, I led 14 volunteers from Princeton University on a special mission to clear out what still remained in Dink's house.

His house lasted through the 1969 storm of Hurricane Camille. When Hurricane Katrina came, Purdy stayed at his sister's house down the street. When I asked why he stayed, he said, "I thought this storm was going to be no big deal. I stayed because I thought it was going to be like any other hurricane that has passed through."

His house took on three feet of water and sustained minor roof damage. After the Hurricane, Dink was hospitalized for seven weeks with a staph infection he developed because of the toxic sea water. He is now living in a FEMA trailer outside his house.

"I've been putting my life back together," Dink said. "During the day, I am writing a book on music theory and at night I spend it at my sister's house because she is scared and lonely."

In order to get his house restored, it needed to be cleared out. After we removed four 1950s-era pianos out of his house, Dink cried, not because we moved his life out of his house, but because we had cleared out the three rooms he asked for, plus four others. We all stood there imagining Dink living back in his house. It's possible now.

Now that the house is cleared out, Dink desperately wants to move back in; volunteers could help move a vibrant old man move back into his house.

Dink reminded me of my grandfather. I could not help to think what it would be like if my grandfather were in his predicament.

It is not too late to help Dink or residents like him. We are desperately seeking donations for beds for our sister organization, Mississippi Home Again. Eighteen months after the storm, residents in Jackson County are still sleeping on their cold floors. These people are not survivors, but rather, they are still surviving. We also need volunteers.

Go to http://www.operationtlc.org to find out how you can volunteer or call (228) 712-2669. You can also visit http://www.mshomeagain.org and find out what Mississippi Home Again does for the Jackson County residents. Many Katrina victims still need help.

AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps is the organization that has sent me to Pascagoula, where I have been able to meet so many residents who have been effected by Hurricane Katrina. The 10-month residential program meets our country's critical needs by providing disaster relief, environmental and educational services. Teams are broken into 10 members and lead by a team leader. In the past six months, my team and I have gutted houses in St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana, built houses with Habitat for Humanity in Waveland, Miss., and we picked up debris in Lake Charles, La. Visit http://theideacollege.com to see more about AmeriCorps.

 

 
AmeriCorps - Elena Velkov
AmeriCorps*NCCC - St. Bernard Parish, LA
 

When my team leader announced that we would be spending two months in St. Bernard Parish house gutting, I didn�t see a single smiling face in the room. My teammates looked stunned, disturbed, apprehensive, and some on the verge of tears. Even those who had wanted a disaster project had an air of anxiety about them. We were understandably nervous about our mental health due to disaster conditions in the New Orleans area. We would be surrounded by destruction, living in uncomfortable conditions, and have virtually no privacy. Then, we got the blow that our time in disaster would be extended from two months to two phases.

Our first night at Camp Premier, a FEMA base camp, did not ease our minds. At first sight, Camp Premier is, in a word, depressing. It�s next door to what�s rumored to be the nation�s largest smokestack, belonging to an oil refinery. The stack is painfully visible from every part of camp. And, our grounds used to be a toxic dump, so we shower in trailers and only have access to Porto Potties. We live in M*A*S*H-like army tents that the wind rattles and rain pounds so loudly that we have to scream to be able to hear each other during the seasonal storms. There is little grass and virtually no plants; instead, there is gravel. Perhaps, I can best explain our reaction to Camp Premier by saying that four of my teammates cried within their first 20 minutes of arrival.

And, in no way can I do justice delineating the spellbinding destruction that we encounter daily. It looks like the storm hit yesterday. Driving to camp, we pass a sight where the storms threw three homes into the middle of a street, each one smashed against the next. Mold is everywhere, and water line marks come to my head. The homes are branded in spray paint to indicate how many people authorities found dead. And it�s not just what we see; the area has a poignant feel. It�s like a ghost town.

However, somewhere along the line�and I can�t quite figure out when�everything changed. For Mary, it was when a firefighter gave a tour of his grandfather�s destroyed neighborhood, and he teared up recounting his childhood memories. For Lauren, it was when she slaved away gutting a kitchen, and the homeowner expressed endless thanks, saying he had not received real help until she came. For Alex, it was when our directors wanted to cut the project short, which would have forced us to leave the parish. I really can�t pinpoint an exact moment for myself, but somewhere in between the horrible heat and uncomfortable cots and bad lunches, I knew that I wanted to be here.

Moreover, I knew we needed to be here. I stopped caring that I didn�t have a bedroom door or my laptop, and I started thinking about the parish. And not the way we had thought about it before. (After all, we always rationally knew that the work was important, and we always kept in mind that we were fortunate.) Thinking about the parish, we began to put our hearts into our work. One night, LaWanda worked in the reception tent until midnight, securing a huge wave of volunteers. I asked her if she was a workaholic, and she said, �Only when it comes to helping people.� After a long day of gutting, Katie told me that she wanted to help in the ops, or operations, tent. When I asked her why she wanted the extra hours, she explained that she simply believed in the project and wanted to do anything she could to help. Perhaps most telling, though, was when my team voted unanimously to extend our stay in St. Bernard Parish, forgoing another project that we might receive. Even the four girls who cried when we got to Camp Premier voted, hands down, to stay another month and a half.

To me, our work here is what life is all about. It�s about turning out the light at the end of the day and knowing that my time wasn�t wasted. It�s about agreeing when people say that I should be proud of myself. It�s about knowing the actual enjoyment that comes from making sacrifices for things that I believe in. And most importantly, it�s about surrounding myself with people who feel the same way. We have come full circle since first receiving the news that we were coming to St. Bernard Parish, and my only hope is that others will have the opportunity to gain the same insight. After all, St. Bernard Parish certainly needs it.

 

 
AmeriCorps - Doris Conger
Marshfield Clinic
 

Whats In A Name?

What is this AmeriCorps? Why is my friend so proud of finishing a year in it? Is it something I might want to do, too? I had many questions running through my mind when a couple of people I know began talking about their year in AmeriCorps. So I began to ask questions. I learned this is a volunteer organization, affiliated with Marshfield Clinic. That it is a way to get excellent training for working with young people. That there was an education award on completion of a one-year term.

Never, never show your friends you�re interested! The next thing I knew, my friends were walking me through an on-line registration, and I not only knew a little about AmeriCorps, I was in it! Next I found myself reporting to a military base! What had I done? I�m over fifty, what was I doing in early morning classes, playing games to learn more about the U.S. Constitution, then thinking I had drawn K.P. duty, but instead finding myself on a crew cutting brush in overpowering heat? My poor body was telling me things that were not nice! Making it through this was well worth it, though. All of us new AmeriCorps members were pretty pleased with ourselves when the great day came and we could be sent back out into our communities. We had forged a strong bond by holding ourselves up and making it through tough times together.

Now I must try to work out a plan of action for my worksite. All sorts of new experiences awaited me here! Getting started was the hardest, followed by finding out who controlled what parts of the community machinery I needed. Through my years of life, I have always worked with young people of all ages. Here came an opportunity to really do what I always wanted to do: open doors for our young people to get what they needed. This is to get help with problems relating to the biggest issues facing our young people: Alcohol, Drugs, and Gangs. I could combine my hard-earned life experience (Thank you, my seven children and all your friends!) with training provided by Marshfield Clinic, and try to implement some positive decision-making programming that would make a difference.

Working in a school setting provided a natural starting place. Teaching in a native language program allowed me to adapt the school�s stated values to interface with the values in Ojibwe culture�s seven teachings: respect, bravery, honesty, wisdom, love, truth, and humility. Including and welcoming non-native children into our language classes has dispelled a great deal of fear and anger which has been a constant problem in this whole area. Easing in a little anti-bullying activity, providing a time to discuss alcohol and drugs safely, and making home visits all help students make better choices. Making available accurate information on the effects of substance abuse on the student, home, and community has also helped with getting young people to feel comfortable in saying �no� to things they are pressured to try by their peers.

Making the school�s faculty more aware of the ways the reservation�s size and structure affects the students was a real challenge. I�ve always felt that �seeing is believing� so several of us worked together to lobby for a way to sensitize the faculty to the long distances students travel, economic conditions, and the sheer beauty of the reservation. This year the administration ok�ed a bus trip so the Middle school faculty could take a tour of the �Rez� during an in-service which led to so many favorable comments that we are now making plans for a wild-ricing trip next fall for both the Middle and High school faculty.

So, what�s in a name? Now I believe some people will remember that I was named as an AmeriCorps member, as well as being Doris, as well as being an elder, as well as being me, and as well as being a person that has made a difference.

 

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