By Ben McCready, Americorps Volunteer
Over the past nine and a half months I’ve been a member of a ten-month program called Americorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps). As a corps member, I became a member of a team of ten 18-24 year olds, who travel around what we NCCC folks know as the Pacific Region, performing a variety of community service projects.
Most projects are two month long stints with a specific organization, although the duration of the project can vary depending on circumstances. My team has been placed in two-month projects with the parks system in San Diego County, a low-income elementary school in Sacramento, as well as with the Catalina Island Conservancy on Catalina Island. We’ve also served for a month with Habitat for Humanity in Portland, Oregon, and are now wrapping up with two weeks of work at Bread and Roses here in Olympia, Washington.
I joined the program because I needed time to reflect on what my life would be after college, wanted to travel, and also because I really wanted to help people. Of course, there was also the added incentive to the fact that I’d just lost my job, Americorps pays for room and board, health insurance, a living allowance, and provides a $5,200 education award at the end of the program. But who’s keeping track of the little things?
In all seriousness, being a part of the program has taught me a lot, truly has helped me grow as a person, and our team has been able to give back quite a bit to the communities we served.
Which brings us to Bread and Roses, the organization that, thanks to the Volunteer Center, we’ve been working with for the past week and a half. The Volunteer Center applied to have an Americorps NCCC stay at St. Michael’s Church on 10th and Boundary St., and I’m really glad they did.
Working at Bread and Roses has been a delightfully surprising adventure. After being briefed before our arrival I must admit that I was a little skeptical. We were told that we’d be landscaping a house at a women’s shelter, and from what we were told I’d imagined a rundown building inhabited by a cranky old couple with a list of laborious demands. Luckily this was not the case.
Phil and Meta, the two in charge of the operation, couldn’t be nicer or more accommodating. Their personalities have made what could be almost unbearably backbreaking work, a relaxed and fun experience.
The work we’ve done includes repainting the inside of the women’s shelter (which is really a house), pulling up carpet to reveal the more attractive hardwood floor beneath, and tearing out drywall in what will become a tool shed. Oddly enough, my favorite chore is the landscape work I’d been dreading.
The landscaping consists primarily of building rock walls all over the property, transforming it into what I like to call a mini Machu Picchu. Phil plans to cover nearly every square inch of the property with edible plants, the fruits of which will provide them and the food bank with fresh fruits and veggies in the years to come. While I do get a good warm feeling from knowing that the work I’m doing will help feed the hungry, I think I’m actually more motivated by the large amount of pride I get from constructing the best looking walls I can put together. It’s important to carefully select the proper stone to fit into place as seamlessly as possible. This involves a lot of guesswork and trial and error. It’s kind of like building a big puzzle with really heavy pieces.
On top of the work we’ve done we also received an education on homelessness. My previous viewpoints were challenged. For instance, the average homeless person is only actually homeless for less than two years. This and some other reality changing info have seriously altered my perception of the issue, and I’m grateful for it.
In sum, I’d like to thank all of you who support the Volunteer Center, because without it I’d never have learned the nuances of building rock walls, gotten to smash holes in drywall with a sledgehammer or have gotten to drink cup after cup of some of the strongest coffee I’ve had in my life (Phil and Meta always have a pot going). Nor would I have learned of all the intricacies surrounding the homeless issue, and have been able to help the people here who can really use it.