151 volunteers wrap up year of helping

Published 12:30 pm Friday, May 28, 2010

More than 200 people filled the Southern Cultural Heritage Center’s auditorium Thursday to cheer on graduating AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps members who have completed 270,000 community service hours throughout the Southern Region during the past year.

“You’ve done things like helping those with the most need throughout the South,” state Sen. Briggs Hopson told the 151 volunteers who now will return home, begin their careers, travel, return to school or commit to a second year with NCCC here in Vicksburg. “You might not know it, but you’ve touched the lives of many people.

“You are givers, and I hope you have encouraged others in the community to be givers,” said Hopson.

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Geoffery Hill, 24, whose home is Riverside, Calif., has been in Vicksburg for the year as a support team leader.

He hopes to return to the campus as a program associate for the upcoming term and possibly “apply for a unit leader position as campus plans to increase enrollment in January.”

Having passed his Praxis exams, Hill hopes to earn a Master of Arts in teaching at Jackson State University or Delta State University “with the intention of teaching in the Delta.”

Hill said the two years he has spent in the South — divided between Vicksburg and New Orleans — fueled an appreciation for the area.

Although he spent most of this year on campus assisting with public relations, for one round, he led a team of 11 members in a tutoring project in two elementary schools in St. Tammany Parish, just north of New Orleans.

Jenny Martin, 19, of Pittsburg, Kan., said her team, River 1, built chimney swift towers in Vicksburg with the Audubon Society and helped build nine houses in Bay St. Louis with Habitat for Humanity.

“We were in Yazoo County and Holmes County doing client case work” before returning for the graduation, said Martin.

Each team displayed its year of work with pictures on boards that lined the walls of the auditorium.

NCCC Region Director Gary Turner commended the group on their work together, in the community and on their projects.

“When the last chapter is written and the book is closed, the best we can do is smile, and the best we can offer is ‘thank-you,’” Turner told them.

Tina Hayward, executive director of the Women’s Restoration Shelter, said the corps provided support at the shelter by painting interior and exterior walls.

“Just last week, they trimmed branches and hedges, took care of our lawn and cut the grass,” said Hayward.

She said she hopes to tap AmeriCorps as a resource again next year.

For all their work and dedication to service, many corps members were awarded the Congressional Award and the President’s Volunteer Service Award.

The excellence award was shared between Zach Pekor and Michele Pyne. Daniel Bingham-Pankratz won the Team Leader of the Year Award. Project sponsor awards went to two who were new to the corps this year, Wolf River Conservancy in Memphis and Southern Foundation for Homeless Children in Sturgis.

During a banquet on campus for members along with their families and friends Wednesday evening, team leaders presented members with awards including leadership, unsung hero, humanitarian, personal growth, work ethic, motivation and going the extra mile throughout the term. 

Others received awards for their creative arts.

Bobby McFadden was the winner in the Artsy category with “Deep Creek,” a photo of a flower in still water; Vadim Zhernokleynev won the Crazy Cool division with “Jacob”; and “Scraping Wallpaper” taken by Seth Reisner, won the Hardcore AmeriCorps Award. 

Vicksburg artist H.C. Porter, a judge for the artwork, said McFadden’s entry was her favorite because “it looked like somebody could create a whole body of work around that piece based on the emotion and the ability” shown.

She presented three of her photos titled “Quiet Determination,” “The Bradley” and “The Protector” as prizes for first place winners.

NCCC members completed 244,316 hours of service for about 6,464,601 recipients. They assisted nearly 96,000 people in disaster areas and 5,668 more in mass care facilities as well as refurbished 358 homes for disaster victims and completed 3,743 damage assessments, AmeriCorps Public Relations specialist Erika Roberts said.

The group built more than 20 wheelchair ramps for people with disabilities and spent more than 320 hours tutoring, Roberts said.

Members participated on 80 service projects in about 30 cities throughout the Southern Region, which includes Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. 

The Vicksburg campus is one of five nationwide. Others are in Sacramento, Calif.; Denver; Vinto, Iowa; and Perry Point, Md.

Throughout the year, members were given stipends of $100 each week for incidentals, and each team was given a food allowance averaging about $4.50 per person per day.

Upon graduation, each member was to receive the Segal Education Award of $5,350 for college tuition or student loans.