Katie VanderVeen--Americorps NCCC Volunteer
|Katie VanderVeen (2nd from left, middle row) shares a group photo op with fellow NCCC squad members.|
When I graduated from NMU in May 2008, I knew what I was going to be doing come October, or at least I thought I knew. I had applied to and been accepted into a program called AmeriCorps*NCCC or AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps. It is a program for 18-24 year olds who are interested in service work. You do not need a degree for this program, just a strong desire to serve. What I knew about NCCC was that I would get to travel around the country doing different projects, that I would get a small stipend and that I would get all my living expenses taking care of. At the time, I was a little apprehensive about going because I thought that maybe I should get a real job.
I am so grateful that I did not get a “real” job. NCCC is so much more that I thought it would be. The people who run it and the corps members have a real passion for helping others. I have met so many people from different backgrounds and who have such a variety of experiences. We did a month of training in Sacramento, CA where my base is. AmeriCorps NCCC is divided into regions, and each region has a base. I was sent to the pacific region campus. Our projects are supposed to be at states within our region but when there is a natural disaster our focus is on disaster relief and we can be sent anywhere.
We divided in to a team of 10-12 with one being a team leader. These are the people that you go on your projects with and basically eat sleep and breathe together. I was blessed with an outstanding team of people. It is a good mix of people from all over the country and also of younger and older corps members. Our youngest team member is 18 and our oldest is 24, soon to be 25.
My team and I left Sacramento a few weeks ago for Texas to begin our first assignment. We drove our 15 passenger van from Sacramento to Austin, TX. The drive took us about three days but it was incredible to see the different states, some that I had never seen before. One evening we saw the sun set over red rocks in AZ and we also got lost on our way to Austin and ended up in a beautiful mountain range in TX. The drives can be tiring but they are an excellent way to work on patience. When we arrived in Austin we had to go to FEMA training for a few hours then we found out where we would be staying and working in.
We were sent to Galveston, TX where hurricane Ike hit the worst in the United States. I am currently living in a volunteer camp on a still active airport runway. We sleep in this huge tent like thing on cots with three hundred other people. There are many other AmeriCorps teams also in Galveston doing different projects. Our project is working with a non profit called good news Galveston. We are walking around to different houses and doing needs assessments. Our main focus is to help those that fall through the cracks such as the elderly and disabled.
We will be doing 1700 hours of service over the course of the next nine months. 80 of those are independent service hours for projects we have to find on our own. I have already done a lot of one day projects such as working at a food bank, at a zoo and for Good News Galveston at their distribution center. Though you do not need your BSW for what I am doing, it is most definitely social work. There is another girl on my team who also has her BSW and we have talked about how our social work classes have really helped us. Even my statistics classes have helped prepare me as we have to keep track of our “quantifiable.” The impact of hurricane Ike down here is something that I know that I will never forget and my classes have helped me prepare. Sometimes, the people I talk to just need to tell someone their story. This is one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life but also the most rewarding. If anyone is maybe not sure about next year I encourage them to look into AmeriCorps NCCC.