July 8, 2009
Tim Pratt -
STARKVILLE -- The group came together nearly a year ago as total strangers from all over the country.
One was from Minnesota and another was from Georgia. Massachusetts also was represented, along with Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.
Few in the group knew exactly what was in store, but they all knew they wanted to do some good. And over the past 10 months, the eight AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps volunteers have become as close as a family while working together on several service projects, including one right here in the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge.
The group first traveled to Texas to assist in the Hurricane Ike cleanup effort. They then helped tutor students in an inner-city Denver school.
For the past eight weeks, the AmeriCorps workers have lived and worked on projects in the refuge, though the group leaves Thursday to return to its base of operations in Denver. The time in Mississippi, however, was well-spent, said refuge manager Henry Sansing.
Among their activities, the group helped U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service workers put new roofs on two houses and a fire station. They also helped build a new fishing pier and dock, which is scheduled for completion within the next month; marked about 20 miles of the refuge''s boundaries; scrubbed and treated existing boardwalks; helped thin trees in the vast woodland; and blew up a beaver dam, among other things.
"The work I got out of them far exceeded expectations," Sansing said. "They have been a tremendous asset."
The Noxubee experience is one of the final chapters in the AmeriCorps group''s time together. Once back in Colorado, they will spend two final weeks together before heading back to their normal lives.
For many of the group, being away from friends and family members was the toughest part of the AmeriCorps experience. Still, all were satisfied with the time they put in and the friendships they formed.
"It''s probably been the best 10 months of my 20 years of life," said Chelsea Wood, of Atlanta, Ga.
The group went fishing Tuesday morning and caught more than 40 catfish, which they prepared for lunch. They ate with the refuge employees who have worked with them over the past eight weeks and presented Sansing with a framed, enlarged photo of all eight members sitting together.
"This way you''ll always remember the first AmeriCorps group that ever came here," said Sara-Jane Petescia, of New Jersey, as she gave Sansing the photo.
Sansing said he was so pleased with the group''s work this summer that he plans to apply for more AmeriCorps help in the future.
"I''d love to have them stay for another three months," Sansing said. "Without their help, we wouldn''t be as far along as we are."
Group leader Mike Hennessey, of Rochester, N.Y., said he will savor his time in the AmeriCorps program and at the refuge.
"It really gives you the opportunity to live in a place for an extended period of time, not just visit a place," Hennessey said. "You really get to know an area when you live there for two months."
And the group was impressed with the refuge.
"It''s been absolutely gorgeous," Wood said, "except for the bugs."