About four years ago I made a life changing decision. It was the summer of 2009, my graduation year. The idea of committing to a national service program was born from a distinct need to push myself past my limits and to explore a bit of America. After a long search through several programs I came across AmeriCorps NCCC. It was perfect. A 10 month long service term for 18-24 year old young people, the opportunity to serve in diverse settings across the U.S. and, best of all, making a direct impact for my fellow Americans.
After getting a call from Washington D.C. that July from AmeriCorps offices, I set out to Vicksburg, Mississippi. I was amazed at how the landscape changed from the Carolina foothills to the swamps of the Deep South. I arrived after three days on the road, often driving 12 straight hours to get through the wilderness. Arriving in town was an experience in itself. The downtown area looked like it hadn’t changed since the 1860’s. I sat by a blues cafe on the waterfront, watching barges laden with goods make their way up the Mississippi river. I took a tour of the National military park just off the interstate where General Grant made his march east towards Virginia. The most amazing sight was the Al-Saints school, the headquarters of AmeriCorps NCCC’s Southern Region Campus.
On each campus one may find an amazing cross section of people from diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. What struck me, as the greatest factor in the organization’s success, is how well so many different people can operate together in the most adverse conditions.
During my service, I learned a great deal from living with nine other strangers. All of us recognized that we were different and came to accept each other’s quirks and personality traits. We ended the year with, for lack of a better word, a second family. During work and off-hours we learned individual integrity, team effort, flexibility and reliance on each other in whatever environment we were positioned. Our work took us from rebuilding homes on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, to building trails in West Virginia and culminated in assisting flood victims in Nashville, Tennessee. Even to this day I would enjoy having that experience again.