A dozen AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps members spent four weeks completing repairing, recycling and beautifying projects at the C.A. Vines Arkansas 4-H Center.
The team arrived Nov. 20 after three weeks of AmeriCorps training. After spending a few days to get the lay of the land, they got to work on several projects with a "reduce, reuse, and recycle theme," said Shannon Caldwell, program director at the 4-H Center. The group stayed at the center through Dec. 18.
The 12 AmeriCorps members range in age from 18 to 23, including college students and recent high school and college graduates. They are from Minnesota, Virginia, Oregon, Washington, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and California, and share a common interest in service work -- and the many ways it can manifest in a community.
Landon Leonard, 18, said he's interested in projects related to disaster relief and a career in emergency management.
Michaela Kabat, 18, said she looked forward to working with nonprofits and "getting experience dealing with hands-on projects."
Sarah Strauss, 18, said she grew up watching the impact of the 4-H program and other extension programs in her community through her mother's work with University of Minnesota Extension.
"Since I just graduated high school, I was really looking for a gap year option that allowed me to pursue my interests in service learning, and to travel around with a group of people around my same age doing meaningful work in our communities," Strauss said.
George Webb-Watkins, 23, is serving his second AmeriCorps term. Originally from Stafford County, Va., he said his desire to engage with service work stems from his interest as a child in the original Civilian Conservation Corps.
"I always thought that sounded interesting, and I wondered what it would have been like to be a part of that," Webb-Watkins said. "Then when I heard about this particular program, I was like, 'Sign me up!'"
The team is the largest AmeriCorps group to work at the center to date. With only four weeks on-site, the volunteers packed several tasks into their time.
The team worked with Steve Wilson, physical plant manager at the 4-H Center, replacing insulation and ceiling tiles in one of the center's conference rooms, which was damaged during the heavy snow Arkansas experienced in February 2021.
The group also assisted in the development of a demonstration garden, in partnership with Pulaski County Master Gardeners, as well as completed a 43-acre controlled burn in partnership with the Arkansas Forestry Commission. The burn was designed to reduce the risk of wildfire and encourage the revival of native flora.
"You can see evidence of the benefit of hosting an AmeriCorps team all across the 4-H Center campus -- from energy conservation, recycling, trail building and improvement, to building and maintaining structures," Caldwell said. "This year's team will continue that work."
The volunteers stripped the Cabe Hall parking lot, repurposing existing stone to create new flower beds and a new retaining wall at the lakeside, repairing and preventing erosion around the campus, categorizing scrap and recyclable materials at the warehouse and completing the final phase of the campus' conversion to LED lighting.
"AmeriCorps NCCC team efforts allow us to provide more opportunities for youth and adults to participate in programs at the 4-H Center, and therefore be introduced to 4-H and Extension," Caldwell said. "The AmeriCorps team members [also] come away with an appreciation for Extension, 4-H and Arkansas as a whole. Hosting a team is mutually beneficial, and we are so grateful for this opportunity to host these young adults from across the country."
To learn more about the Arkansas 4-H Center, visit thevinescenter.org. To learn more about AmeriCorps, visit https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps/americorps-programs. For details about extension programs in Arkansas, contact a local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without discrimination.
Rebekah Hall is with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.