MEQUON – When you take a trip, you typically know where you’re going.
Mequon resident Jessica Gold recently joined up with AmeriCorps for a 10-month trip where she will work on projects that relate to natural and other disasters.
However, she doesn’t know where she’ll be going.
Gold is one of 126 people on the trip as part of the Atlantic Region’s 23rd class of the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), a program through AmeriCorps.
Gold will return in November in time for Thanksgiving. She said she's very thankful for this experience, which she hopes will help her to decide on a path for her future.
After graduating from Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, Gold said she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. She heard about AmeriCorps and thought it’d be a “good stepping stone.”
She said she liked it was team-based and she got to travel.
Getting ready for the trip, Gold was sent a military green duffel. Everything she wanted to bring along had to fit in this one bag and a carry-on.
Living quarters were a bit cramped early on with 15 people in a bunk bed-style room, Gold said.
Sponsors provide housing and about $4.25 per day for food per person. Gold said everyone pools their money and shops together, rotating who cooks and who cleans.
Gold said her work week is 42 ½ direct service hours working for the sponsor typically from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, with an hour lunch break.
There is also a physical training aspect which brings the total of the week to 48 hours. Additionally, there are volunteer hours that must be completed — 80 by the end of the 10-month trip.
“I think it’s really cool how there’s a whole bunch of groups nationwide,” Gold said.
Participants do get an additional stipend/living allowance of $4,000, Gold said.
According to a release about the project, after it's completed, Gold will get an education award of $5,815, which can be used to continue education or pay student loans.
A trip divided
The 10-month trip which began in early February is divided into four rounds. Gold said she finds out the destination for each shortly before heading out.
She is in White Hall, Maryland, right now finishing up the first six-week round and is going through fire training with her team of 11 members. Gold described her team as “solid.”
Her group is staying at a camp that she called “kind of isolated.” Other groups stay in cities, Gold said. It all depends on where you’re sent and what you’re doing.
The second round is in Virginia for another six weeks in the Great Dismal Swamp for fish and wildlife services. Beyond that, she has no clue what lies ahead except that the final two rounds are a bit longer.
Gold said she really wishes she knew where she was going for the remaining time.
Projects typically relate to the environment, such as creating and maintaining trails or other forms of infrastructure. Additionally, Gold said there are some rounds where volunteers partner with various groups such as Habitat for Humanity. Her current sponsor is the Boys and Girls Club.
Other sponsors include the American Red Cross, the National Park Service, and various other state agencies and nonprofit organizations.
The future of AmeriCorps
Gold said she is concerned about the future of AmeriCorps with the potential for the budget to be cut in the future. She said her 10-month trip is not in danger of being canceled, but future trips are somewhat uncertain.
She said people should invest in the project, saying not everyone needs a college degree and some don’t even graduate high school but this can help everyone.
“This helps all to grow and get skills,” she said.