AmeriCorps members train for safety

Published 9:34 am Monday, February 16, 2015

AmeriCorps NCCC team member Jonathan Eidson, center, gets ground guidance from team member Matthew Neumann Friday afternoon during a driver's confidence course for the organization's 15-passenger vans. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

AmeriCorps NCCC team member Jonathan Eidson, center, gets ground guidance from team member Matthew Neumann Friday afternoon during a driver’s confidence course for the organization’s 15-passenger vans. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

The sound of screeching tires could be heard Friday afternoon amid a sea of orange cones and youthful faces in a large, empty parking lot on North Frontage Road.

Dozens of new AmeriCorps team members arrived in Vicksburg last week. Their initial training involved a confidence course on their 15-passenger vans. A final driving is Tuesday. The course, headed up by fleet manager Larry Henney, teaches verbal and hand signals for ground guides as well as the capabilities and limitations of the large vans, he said.

“They build confidence in their ability to maneuver the van, and they build confidence in their communication between the driver and the ground guide,” Henney explained.

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The course, lined with orange cones, consisted of turns through which ground guides had to direct a driver. The course also simulated parking spots and a high-speed controlled stop. In addition to the driver training, team members are taught preventive maintenance on the vans. They are taught how to check the oil level, tire pressure, battery connection and many other common maintenance items to ensure the vehicles keep running down the road if they find themselves out on their own.

“The principle behind it is not so much to teach them how to drive, it’s to bring the van aspect into it because this is a lot different than a Honda Accord,” Henney said. “They’re a lot bigger, a lot slower, a lot harder to maneuver and they take longer to stop.”

Comfort and experience behind the wheel is key to the certification process, support services specialist Paul Klockars added.

“Our members come in, a lot of them have no experience driving 15-passenger vans,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for the members to not only do some behind the wheel driving, but also practice their arm signals and get more comfortable with it.”

Team leaders received this training about a month ago, Henney said, so they can help train and act as a safety for their vehicle.

Tampa native and field team leader Ashley Foust agrees on the importance of the training for team members because of how much time they spend on the road, she said. She added that the confidence course and the staff teaching it are a great resource for those not quite so comfortable with a vehicle that bulky.

“A lot of us aren’t super familiar with such a large vehicle,” she said. “It’s a safe place for all of our members to learn how to turn sharp corners and do three point turns. It’s a good learning environment for members.”

That learning environment is exactly what Henney is trying to create, in hopes that they make their mistakes on the course instead of out on the road, he said.

“If they hit a cone here and miss a car or a pole all year long, we’re happy,” he said. “We’re out here trying to reduce accidents.”