Clearing trails at the Caledonia Nature Conservancy is among the five projects the AmeriCorps Oak4Team completed while they were here in May and June.
BY DAVID RHOADS
“These AmeriCorps volunteers have been great!” declared Dave Giordano, director of the Root Pike Watershed Initiative Network. “Removing these non-native plants and shrubs is essential to restoring the plant diversity of the Pike River.” Giordano was referring to the nine AmeriCorps workers who came from all over the United States to work on environmental projects in our community during May and June.
These volunteers are part of AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, a full-time, residential, national service program whose mission is to strengthen communities and develop leaders through direct, team-based community service. Each year hundreds of young adults serve for 10 months in several locations on teams of 8 to 12 people. The Oak4 Team was here in Racine working together on five projects. They worked in pairs, rotating from one project to another each week.
In addition to watershed restoration, the AmeriCorps volunteers worked with Julie Kinzelman of the Racine Health Department on projects at North Beach and Samuel Myers Park. According to Kinzelman, “The Oak4 crew has been a wonderful addition. Sam Myers Park is shaping up nicely. The workers have been removing invasives, planting a rain garden, capturing and treating surface water runoff, providing food for birds and insects, and enhancing the aesthetic value.”
According to Amy Nitz, Health Department Educator, AmeriCorps volunteers put hundreds of decals on storm water drains: “Do Not Dump. Drains into Lake.” Nitz said that “They have accomplished a lot in a short time, despite many periods of inclement weather.” AmeriCorps worker Kyle Stewart from Solon, Iowa especially liked this experience: “A fellow corps member and I have been walking around town placing decals on storm drains. We found that Racine is a lot of fun to explore and it has a good mix of nature and city vibes.”
Matt Koepnick, Racine City forester was thrilled to have the AmeriCorps members join an important project to plant over 360 trees in Uptown. Lindsey Hladka from Cincinnati said she “loved working with the Forestry Department. They made planting trees fun and memorable. Everyone is so kind and welcoming.”
Ed Miller of the Racine Revitalization Partnership is “so pleased to have dedicated young team members doing a critical inventory of more than two thousand properties in the Uptown, Slausondale, and TowerView neighborhoods.” Miller explained that they were “collecting data such as vacancy, property condition, board ups, and exterior grounds condition—all leading to improvement in the quality of available housing for both renters and homeowners.”
In addition to working 40-hour weeks on these projects, the volunteers also did “service projects” during their stay. They contacted environmental organizations and offered their services to the Lighthouse Run, Habitat Restore, River Bend Nature Center, Milwaukee Area Land Conservancy, Caledonia Conservancy, Giving to the Nations Food Pantry and the Racine Urban Garden Network.
None of this would have been possible without a place for the volunteers to live during their two months in Racine. Through his incredible generosity, Bill Thompkins, pastor of the Fellowship of Christian Believers, who actually turned his house over to them! Also, Jeff Collen, executive director of the YMCA, who provided them with passes to the Y, where they were able to clean up and exercise.
Greening Greater Racine has been delighted to sponsor these volunteers. What a terrific group of young people—dedicated, hard-working, respectful, and eager to serve. And what a great way to support many of the environmental initiatives in Racine. It was a privilege to host them.
To learn more about this and other volunteer programs, visit nationalservice.gov.
David Rhoads is director of Greening Greater Racine.