For Megan Racine, volunteering is nothing new. Among other things, she rang a bell at a Salvation Army kettle and helped deliver packages from DeKalb County Hospice to families affected by cancer. Today, Racine, 21, is in the middle of a 10-month commitment to AmeriCorps.
“It’s a 10-month service program for 18-to-24-year-olds,” she said. “It’s like a domestic Peace Corps. We do a few volunteer projects around the U.S.”
Born in Genoa, Racine moved to Sycamore when she was 4. After graduating from Sycamore High School, she got her associates degree in liberal arts from Kishwaukee College. Not sure what she wanted to do, she decided to apply for AmeriCorps.
Racine is currently stationed in Evans, Colo., helping flood victims, many of whom have lost everything. She spent a few minutes talking to MidWeek reporter Doug Oleson by phone.
MidWeek: How did you hear about AmeriCorps?
Megan Racine: I heard about it my senior year in high school. I was in sociology class and my aunt, who works there, pulled me out of class to talk to a recruiter. We talked for about a half hour and I just put it on the back burner. After I graduated from Kish, I realized I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I applied and here I am.
MW: Had you ever volunteered for anything before?
MR: I was in a service learning project. We volunteered for a couple of weeks at different places. I was a red kettle bell ringer outside of Browns County Market. It’s really, really cold.
MW: Describe the application process.
MR: You mention the volunteer experience that you have done. I delivered care baskets for DeKalb County Hospice one year. I really enjoyed that, but it was kind of tough because they had family members who had passed away from cancer. You also have an essay portion where you explain why you want to commit to this 10 months of service, and what inspires you to volunteer. You also need two references.
MW: Do you get to request a certain location or do you just go wherever they send you?
MR: You go wherever they send you. If you get accepted in the fall cycle, most likely you’ll be based in California or Colorado; if you get accepted in the spring cycle, you’re more likely to be based in Iowa, Mississippi or Maryland.
MW: Where are you right now?
MR: We’re in Evans, Colo. Our main priority is client case work. Basically, we’re talking to flood survivors. Now that we’re here, you can see the mud and stuff left over. You can see the trailers taken off their foundations.
Hearing the stories are overwhelming. It’s very intense, and sad. In some cases, all their belongings are washed away; in other cases, it’s in front of them, but it’s contaminated. They’ve never seen anything like this.
We take down their information and see that their immediate needs are met. If they don’t have any clothing or food, we want to make sure those needs are met. We work alongside FEMA and the American Red Cross.
MW: How long is each project?
MR: They usually last from four to eight weeks, depending on what the project is. Then we’ll come back to our home base and have a week to get ready for our next deployment.
MW: So where are you based?
MR: Perry Point, Md. It’s kind of a very small town like Sycamore.
MW: So what happened when you arrived at your base?
MR: We got there in February and you have a month of training. They take your through the process of what national service is. In March you get deployed on your first project. There are 10 coed teams of eight to 10 members that get deployed in different sections of the Atlantic region. We go from Maine to Maryland.
For the most part, you are with the same team for the whole 10 months, but sometimes you get put on composite teams.
MW: Sounds like it can be emotionally draining.
MR: It can be sometimes. Some clients come in and they don’t have anything. It’s really heartbreaking. I don’t really know how to explain it. I don’t know how I can sit there and keep it together when their worlds are falling apart.
MW: What else have you done?
MR: I was doing manual labor. ...We did disaster recovery in New Jersey. I had to crawl under trailers in trailer parks and remove old insulation that collected moisture when it was flooded. We pretty much had to do the dirty work. We wore these Tyvek suits in 80-degree weather. We were being very cautious and had to wear respirator masks. If you’re claustrophobic, it’s hard.
We also went to some place in New York and demolished the walls inside of some homes. That was rather interesting, it relieved some of the stress. We did a lot of mold remediation, which is a fancy way of saying you scrubbed the mold off the walls.
MW: How often do you work?
MR: It kind of depends on what you’re doing. It’s usually five days a week, but sometimes it’s a straight seven days a week.
I was on a wildfire assignment in California and we worked for two straight weeks without a day off.
MW: Where do you stay?
MR: Right now, we’re staying in a hotel. I have camped out for two weeks in a tent, when we were fire fighting. Most of the time we are staying in a church. One place they didn’t have anyplace for us to sleep, so I had a mat in a nursery type area; another time in an empty pastor’s house.
MW: Where will you go next?
MR: I have no idea. I’m not sure what we’ll be doing after that.
MW: Are you glad you did this?
MR: I really love doing the work that I do because there are a lot of things I haven’t done before, but I really miss home.
MW: What do you miss most?
MR: Family and friends, home-cooked meals, sleeping in my own bed.
MW: Any last thoughts?
MR: It has been an experience. Yeah, I’m definitely glad I did it. Obviously, there are good and bad parts about it, but the work is rewarding. You know you are directly helping someone. For some teams, they don’t get that. We get to talk to people and help them get back on their feet, and that is awesome.