Men's Breakfast Report, February 2009
The Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, February 14 with the AmeriCorps volunteers as the featured guests. Of the nine AmeriCorps volunteers staying in our parlor, four came to our breakfast: Andrew Braunstein, Keara Kelly, Paul Ellis and Serena Terry. The rest of the Volunteers were in Surfside, helping with the marathon being run at the same time. The volunteers come from several places: Colorado, Virginia, Georgia and Yonkers, New York.
AmeriCorps NCCC is a United States program modeled after the Peace Corps and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).. There are various programs; the one our volunteers are in accepts young people from 18 to 24 years of age for a ten-month stint. It is possible to volunteer for a second stint. The leaders are people on a second stint. Volunteers are given a minimal living allowance and live in facilities made available to them, like our parlor. After their service they receive a $4,725 stipend to be used to pay college tuition. About one in four applicants are accepted. Once a person is accepted, he is trained at one of several facilities scattered around the country. Usually people are sent to a training center distant from their home so they get a broad view of the country. A group is sent to a project for about three months. The group is then broken up and a new group reformed for the next three-month project. For the final three-month project the initial group is reformed.
The volunteers are here to assist in relief efforts for Hurricane Ike. Their main task has been to go from door to door talking to people about the damage that they have suffered and to help them get assistance, if needed, from FEMA or local charitable or governmental organizations. Related to this is aid in administration of relief. This includes prioritization and coordination of efforts. The volunteers also participate in some hands-on relief efforts. For example, they cleared a tree and debris from one person’s yard; he had been unable to get other help. The volunteers enjoyed this work as a change from the other work.
The volunteers always traveled in pairs for safety. In some neighborhoods, especially middle and upper-class neighborhoods, they were greeted with suspicion and the homeowners were reluctant to talk with them. In lower and working-class neighborhoods they were greeted enthusiastically. Many of these people did not understand how to work through the various bureaucracies to get needed help so the volunteers were especially needed. The reception did not appear to depend on the ethnic composition of the neighborhood even though eight of the nine volunteers are white and only one is black.
The volunteers were sent to Freeport because it was originally thought the greatest need would be in Surfside and Freeport. It has turned out, however, that there has not been much need for assistance in Surfside because many of the buildings were owned by non-residents who either were insured or simply do not plan on repairing their property. The greatest need has been in the Alvin area where there was much wind damage which was often not readily apparent.
The volunteers have various career plans for after their term as volunteers. Some are planning to return to college. Some, who already have degrees, are planning to teach and some are undecided. All want to continue volunteering no matter what they do in the future. They also encouraged us to consider volunteering in related Federal programs for older adults. For those interested check the AmerCorps.gov website.
As usual, the men had an informative discussion and a good breakfast. The next meeting is Saturday, March 14 and all men are invited.