As 126 young adults from across the nation prepared to take a pledge to serve, Barbara Stewart, the chief executive officer for the Corporation for National and Community Service, thanked them for their commitment to make a difference.
“When you take the AmeriCorps pledge today, you’re going to be joining more than a million Americans who have taken the pledge to get things done, to make a difference in their communities throughout our country,” Stewart told them in a virtual ceremony last September.
Among the members of the class was my daughter, Grace Bassett, a 2017 graduate of Carroll High School and a 2020 graduate of Purdue University.
Beginning in August of 2020, she would join members of the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps Class 26B, serving in the Pacific region for the following 10 months.
Supported by the federal government, AmeriCorps NCCC is a full-time, team-based residential service program for 18- to 26-year-olds. According to the agency, AmeriCorps members serving in the NCCC program represent a wide variety of socioeconomic, cultural, geographic and educational backgrounds.
AmeriCorps members serving in the NCCC program are assigned to one of four regional campuses and then placed into teams typically ranging between 8-12 members. The teams complete a variety of service projects, which generally last for three to 13 weeks.
Program expenses are provided, including transportation, housing, meals, health benefits, uniforms and job training. Members also receive $4,000 for living expenses and an education award worth more than $6,000 to pay student loans or future tuition.
According to AmeriCorps, projects that teams might work on include:
• constructing and rehabilitating low-income housing;
• constructing or repairing hiking trails in local and national parks across America;
• improving summer camp structures and assisting with camp programming;
• responding to disasters by operating shelters, removing debris, coordinating volunteers and repairing or cleaning out homes;
• removing invasive vegetation and planting new trees;
• educating people on sustainability and energy conservation practices;
• receiving, inventorying and distributing donated food and other goods;
• making facilities handicap-accessible and installing informative public signs; and
• directly assisting veterans, homeless and senior citizens.
Organizations that are eligible to be project sponsors include nonprofits, government, secular and faith-based organizations, Native American and Alaskan tribes, national or state parks, forests and other public lands, and schools.
“Every service journey is a little different. Everyone’s experience is a little different. But one of the common threads that you’ll experience in the coming year is the ability to make a difference in the communities where you serve and the personal growth that you’ll experience,” Stewart told members of Class 26B.
My daughter was assigned to serve with Team Red 2, with her teammates hailing from New Hampshire, Kansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania and California.
Their first term of service saw them partnering with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Sacramento.
The team played a large role in Habitat’s “Rock the Block,” where a coalition of residents, nonprofits and organizations came together to repair homes and revitalize the community. As part of the effort, the coalition “rocked the block” of a Sacramento homeowner by repairing the roof, tearing out dry rot, installing solar panels and building a new fence, Habitat said.
Another highlight of the team’s service with Habitat was working on home repairs for a World War II veteran and his wife of 74 years. He joined the Army at 16 and trained with the Tuskegee Airmen.
According to Habitat, the couple built their home with their own hands after facing historic and systemic racism, which denied them the opportunity to purchase a home after the war.
The team also had the honor of meeting California Congresswoman Doris Matsui.
“AmeriCorps members symbolize a helping hand to communities in times of need, and this partnership between local and national service organizations is priceless during the pandemic. As we continue to face this crisis, now is the time to expand National Service and empower Americans to give back to their communities. In each one of these projects, we see the impact of their service,” Matsui posted on social media after meeting the team.
At the conclusion of its first round of service, Class 26B’s accomplishments included:
• assisting with food distribution to families, especially delivering meals to homebound residents impacted by COVID-19;
• building affordable housing for families;
• supporting communities in their recovery from disasters, including building homes and distributing essential goods;
• making phone calls to seniors impacted by the pandemic to ensure they were safe and had essential items;
• building and maintaining numerous outdoor recreation trails; and
• supporting various infrastructure improvement projects throughout the country.
Grace’s second term of service saw the team traveling to Seattle, Washington, where it partnered with the United Way of King County to support efforts to reduce food insecurity among King County families. The team sorted and inspected food to ensure it was safe to eat and then distributed food staples to families in need.
“The work we have been doing has been extraordinarily awesome,” said team member Chingis Reed of the team’s work with the agency. “I have loved what we have been doing, and helping the people in need of food has been enlightening.”
Team Red 2’s final round of service was split between working for the Human Resource Development Council Community Action Agency in Billings, Montana, where it assisted with tax preparations; Zootah at Willow Park in Logan, Utah, where team members assisted in maintenance and the care of animals at the nonprofit zoo; Logan Family Center; and Common Ground Outdoor Adventures, where the team worked on property improvements as well as participating in activities with youth clients with disabilities.
Grace said she especially enjoyed her time working with Common Ground.
“Common Ground Outdoor Adventures works to enhance the lives of youth and adults with disabilities through quality outdoor recreation. Our team was able to work directly with the youth participants and, while helping them through activities such as canoeing and archery, we also learned so much about these individuals,” she said.
Serving with AmeriCorps also gives corps members the opportunity to explore on their days off — typically on the weekends. Grace’s team made the most of this opportunity, visiting national and state parks, taking a dip in the Pacific Ocean, hiking in the mountains, and even riding the ferries to the islands off Seattle.
“Welcome to the AmeriCorps community, and I hope the coming year will be one of the most amazing experiences of your entire life,” Stewart told the class back in September. “Thank you for choosing to serve your country and thank you for all that you’ll accomplish in the coming year.”
As Grace and her teammates prepared to participate in their virtual graduation ceremony this past Wednesday, it surely was a time to reflect on those experiences and accomplishments.