Service year complete, AmeriCorps volunteers packing up

Published 11:43 am Thursday, May 19, 2011

AmeriCorps volunteers, instrumental for more than a month, and active in saving the City of Vicksburg on manpower by pitching in with this Mississippi River flood crisis, have ended their year-long term and were packing up Wednesday to leave the city.

“There will be a void,” Mayor Paul Winfield said. “They saved us a significant amount of man hours. That saved us a lot of overtime, and we are burning on overtime in public works and law enforcement.”

The 140 volunteers of the second Vicksburg class of the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps Southern Region will graduate a week from today and leave Vicksburg and the cleanup work that lies ahead. Some members have expressed an interest in continuing with the volunteer work, but the option was not available because of a lack of funding, community relations specialist Erika Roberts said.

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“They see the impact and they want to help,” she said.

Four five-man teams of volunteers, who arrived in Vicksburg last summer and spent 10 months working on community service projects across the region, were recruited last month by the city to participate in the flood awareness campaign. Members assisted law enforcement authorities in notifying residents of the imminent flood and took pertinent information from the residents.

They worked in the city’s command center answering phone calls and recording residents’ information. Corps members also helped fill countless sandbags used as a defense against the creeping river water.

“Closing with a disaster isn’t always the best thing, but it’s what we were needed to do, and projects like this make us feel like we’ve been trained to do what we were meant to do,” said 21-year-old Ashley Dickinson of St. Charles, Mo. “We were truly helping in places that are needed most.”

“Ending with a disaster, especially in Vicksburg, I think is particularly meaningful,” said 23-year-old Katie Higgins of Brick, N.J. “Obviously, you never want a disaster, but to help in Vicksburg is great because it’s our home base.”

Their fellow teammate, 21-year-old Chelsea Coss of Eaton Rapids, Mich., agreed.

“Coming here and being able to dedicate 10 months to doing service was like a dream for me,” Coss said. Upon returning home, she plans to continue with her education at Olivet College in Olivet, Mich.

Dickinson plans to volunteer with the AmeriCorps Alums, a group of experienced volunteers, when she returns home, and Higgins will pursue a nursing degree at Ocean County Community College.

Dickinson, Coss and three others spent their last day Wednesday helping pack Salvation Army supply boxes to be given away to flood victims.

“They were extremely helpful,” said Phyllis Renfro, Salvation Army volunteer and member of the Women’s Auxiliary board of advisers. “They helped us clean, fill sandbags, fill food boxes and four of them helped us at the (Salvation Army) Thrift Store.”

“Each of those young people have learned some unique skill sets that I’m hopeful they’ll take back to their own communities and express their leadership,” Winfield said.

The next class will arrive in Vicksburg in June and July. Vicksburg-based volunteers are housed on the campus of the former All Saints’ Episcopal School.

The Vicksburg campus is one of five nationwide, plus others 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 $5,550 for college tuition or student loans.