Brashinger: Mokena woman credits national volunteer program for personal growth
By Ginger Brashinger Citizen Journalistfirstname.lastname@example.org October 3, 2013 1:32PM
Carolyn Windberg (right), a volunteer disaster response team member with the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, works on a project in Roundup, Mont., an area devastated by wildfires and floods. | Supplied photo
Updated: November 7, 2013 6:07AM
Carolyn Windberg, 23, wasn’t sure in 2012 how she wanted to use her religion and Spanish degree as she was completing her senior year at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.
Rather than return to her comfortable life in Mokena with her parents, MaryBeth and Jim, until she made a decision, Windberg decided that volunteer work would be a good interim choice.
“I’ve been involved with service my whole life,” she said. “I wanted to do something that was service-related after college, but something I hadn’t done before. Going into it, I really just wanted the experience of working with a diverse group.”
Windberg found the right fit with the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and became part of a 10-person disaster response team based in Sacramento, Calif.
The AmeriCorps NCCC is a national service program for people 18 to 24 who provide volunteer help where needed across the country. It’s full-time and residential for a 10-month period.
Windberg began training with a team right after graduation, taking on five major projects across the country. One that she found especially meaningful was working as a classroom aide at a homeless shelter in Sacramento, which has the largest percentage of homeless people of any city in the United States.
Windberg described the experience as a “kind of full-circle moment. ... We were actually giving back to the community where the (AmeriCorps) program was held.”
A second California project in the San Joaquin River Gorge proved to be Windberg’s favorite and most challenging. The team worked on maintaining 10 miles of trails in a “very isolated” place that “tested your patience for getting work done.”
The team worked on preventing water erosion on trails and installing stairs along the trails. The traveling was all on foot, and the work was all done by hand.
“It was a really good project for individual growth,” Windberg said.
A three-week project with the Red Cross took the group to New York City to assist homeowners in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Windberg said the team helped create profiles for people who lost their homes in the super storm — profiles that would help determine whether the residents would receive funds for new homes or to repair their existing ones.
“It was really beneficial to see that side of disaster relief,” Windberg said.
In Oregon, the team worked at the Elston Community Education Center — helping to maintain a butterfly garden, vegetable garden, orchard, habitats natural to the state and a replication of a fort from which the community originated.
In Musselshell County, Mont., Windberg’s team again saw the devastating results of a natural disaster. In 2011, Windberg said, one community was “hit hard by floods,” and “just as they were starting to recover” in August 2012, wildfires struck the same area.
Windberg said 150 houses, or three quarters of the homes in the community, were damaged by the fire. But she said the hard physical work of cutting trees, clearing trash and rebuilding wasn’t the most difficult part of the project.
“It was a very depressing area because they had two disasters happen to them,” she said.
Windberg said the NCCC program has led to her personal growth and given her confidence “in just going and doing something and not getting into a comfortable state. I know I always want to be doing something that is challenging and invigorating to the soul.”
Windberg recently accepted a position as director of religious education at Church of the Resurrection in Dubuque. She said it will allow her to fulfill one of her goals, “to interact with a lot of people.”
Another of her goals is to encourage other young people to discover the benefits of service to others through AmeriCorps.
“I think it’s something every young person should at least look into,” Windberg said. “You not only travel, but you are learning skills you can’t learn in such a short amount of time anywhere else, like construction skills and people skills. I hope some young people see this article and consider AmeriCorps.”
For more information, visit www.americorps.gov/nccc.