Americorps volunteers end their service in Butte

Americorps volunteers Shelby Greene, 23, and Corey Jones, 22, paint the interior of Jacobs House, a county-owned house built by Butte's first mayor. The house will soon be available for artist residencies and other community projects. 

On a recent morning in the historic Jacobs House on West Granite Street, three young adults reflected on the past 10 months of their lives traveling across the western United States.

First, the trio helped a food bank in Sacramento, California, prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Then, they moved north to Chico, California, to help care for animals and livestock evacuated from the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

This service trend continued every six to eight weeks as the young adults moved to help with projects ranging from helping file taxes for low-income families in Seattle to completing maintenance work at a boys and girls club camp in northern California.

Now, nearly 10 months later, the three AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps program members are finishing up on their final six weeks of service, ending their journey in the Mining City.

“It has honestly been the best and the worst experience of my life,” said Abbie Watton, a 24-year-old AmeriCorps NCCC team member from central Illinois.

Watton wasn’t alone in her bittersweet sentiments about the months-long service program. Shelby Greene, a 23-year-old from Indiana, and Corey Jones, a 22-year-old from Washington D.C., said they felt the exact same way.

“Abbie described it in the perfect words, it’s the best and it’s the worst,” Greene said. “I’ve learned a lot and met a lot of amazing people, but you have to learn to be flexible because so much is thrown your way … some of it was a real struggle.”

The three young adults explained that the AmeriCorps NCCC program is designed for 18- to 24-year-olds interested in spending a service year or gap year traveling across the country to help with the aftermath of natural or other disasters, infrastructure improvement, environmental stewardship, urban or rural development projects, and more.

After completing the program, the trio said they have the opportunity to receive a multitude of benefits, including employment connections and roughly $6,000 in scholarship money.

All three joined the AmeriCorps NCCC to gain these diverse work and service experiences, benefits, and to travel before either heading back to school or onto another venture.

All three were placed on the same team based out of Sacramento, where they received their initial training and discussed their experiences with the other 20 service teams traveling across the western U.S. in between each project.

And as the three adults talked about the highs and lows of their service, all three voiced that they don’t regret their choice to join AmeriCorps because of the skills they gained and the things they learned about themselves.

“This is the longest commitment I’ve ever made,” Jones said. “It feels really nice to finish something.”

“I know I can push through any obstacles now and have the ability to further myself,” Watton said, noting that she landed a job at the United Way in Seattle through the AmeriCorps program.

For Greene, her personal experiences and growth was a little different than Jones and Watton. After the service project in Chico, Greene said she was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune condition believed to have been linked to working in the poor air quality created by the Camp Fire wildfire.

Greene said she had to go home for a month while she was receiving treatment and recovering, but was able to return to the program and finish her AmeriCorps service.

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“I proved to myself that I can still do things and make it through anything that’s thrown my way, even with the diagnosis,” Greene said.

When asked where their Butte experience fit into the highs and lows of their AmeriCorps journey, the adults said working in the Mining City was definitely a good way to finish their service year.

For this last six-week project, the trio and the rest of their nine-person team are working with a handful of local nonprofits to complete infrastructure improvements like helping renovate the historic Jacobs House and working to get the fabrication studio behind the Phoenix Building on West Park Street ready for local artists to utilize.

Christine Martin, board member for The Root & The Bloom historic preservation non-profit and curator and building director of the Clark Chateau, is one of the locals who has worked directly withthe AmeriCorps team.

Martin said partnering with non-profits like Habitat for Humanity and the National Affordable Housing Network to bring the young adults to Butte and to specifically help get the Jacobs House renovated seemed like a logical step.

The Root & The Bloom is hoping to propose a lease agreement to county officials in the near future that would allow the nonprofit to oversee the historic home of Butte’s first mayor as a community space, along with a place for speakers or artists to stay while in the Mining City.

“We would love to help bring exciting things to Butte by housing educators and speakers who can help facilitate bigger community conversations,” Martin said. 

The AmeriCorps team has helped Martin and The Root & The Bloom get closer to achieving that goal by completing a good portion of the renovation work at the Jacobs House and has been really great to work with, Martin said.

And for the team, their experience in Butte has been great for them, too.

“This is the first small-town project we’ve been assigned to,” said Jones. “It’s great to see a place working to build itself up by its own hands. The people who were born here or who have moved here are really trying to make it a better place.”

Jones, Greene and Watton said they didn’t expect to be so welcomed by the Butte community, but that the local support has helped motivate them during their last six weeks of service.

The AmeriCorps members said they’ve been invited to try bike polo, check out Yellowstone National Park and to spend time at a Martin’s cabin.

“Butte has been great,” Watton said. “Everyone has been so nice and it just has a really pleasant, hometown feel.”

When asked what advice the trio would give to any young adult embarking on their own AmeriCorps NCCC journey, or considering it, they said to expect the unexpected.

The members said you never know what projects you’ll be assigned to or where you’ll end up, but that being “Ameri-flexible,” is important.

“No, this program is not easy, but at the end of the 10 months it’s worth it,” Watton said. 

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