When my daughter Katie received her degree from Iowa State University in 2007, the recession had pretty much sapped many employers’ ability to fill job vacancies. I wondered what she would do, and my ulcer was working overtime.
I was not aware of AmeriCorps or the National Civilian Community Corps. But Katie was, and she mentioned her interest in applying for the program.
The rest is history.
Little could I imagine the adventures that were ahead of her as she packed her bags and prepared to head off to California to begin her AmeriCorps service. I could not foresee how her AmeriCorps experiences would refocus her priorities in life.
It wasn’t long after she arrived in California before she and her AmeriCorps team members headed to Louisiana to help in the aftermath of the devastating hurricanes that had pounded the Gulf Coast.
It was there in Louisiana and Mississippi that accounts came back to Iowa of what AmeriCorps members mean to people whose lives are touched by these dedicated young people.
Katie and her AmeriCorps colleagues spent weeks working along the Gulf Coast, helping Habitat for Humanity bring safe and sturdy housing to the hard-hit region.
One day in the checkout line at a grocery store illustrates the impact these young people were having on the region. The checkout clerk noticed the AmeriCorps emblem on Katie’s shirt and told her, “Thank you for all you are doing down here.”
Hearing about that encounter, my wife and I realized that the service by Katie and the other people in AmeriCorps was incredibly important beyond just the houses they were building to replace those left in rubble by the storms. These AmeriCorps members also were helping rebuild the spirit of the people along the Gulf of Mexico.
We smiled with parental pride when Katie called home one evening in 2008 to update us on her work. She and her team members had been living in spartan conditions in a vacant school building. This particular week, she and her friends were delivering construction materials to keep hundreds of volunteer homebuilders well-supplied.
The volunteers came from across the United States to work alongside former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn during the Carter Work Project, an annual week-long Habitat for Humanity event in which Habitat’s most famous volunteers led the hands-on work of constructing much needed homes for people in need.
Katie described seeing the Carters and the other Habitat volunteers hard at work as the AmeriCorps members ferried supplies to the construction sites.
That was not the only time we beamed with pride during her AmeriCorps service.
We eagerly shared with our friends her accounts of learning to frame and roof new houses, of her patient explanations to the uninformed among us of the differences between plywood and OSB lumber, of hanging doors and building shelves as the houses neared completion.
My guy friends were flat-out envious when I told them about Katie running a forklift and a Bobcat.
Even smaller events were fodder for proud parental memories — like the day Katie worked with First Lady Michelle Obama on a playground construction project in San Francisco, or the hours that she and her AmeriCorps team members spent clearing storm debris from around the homes of grateful elderly people in Louisiana, or the weeks they spent mentoring kids like Rico, Jack and Javaughn at a Boys & Girls Club in California.
While Katie talks about these memories, too, she also talks about the lessons she learned from the people she was serving during her two years with AmeriCorps.
And that, in this parent’s view, is the best capsulation of the value of this wonderful program.