As birds and green return full force after a relatively mild winter and spring, local AmeriCorps volunteers are returning to a variety of outdoor activities as well.
Living and working in Osceola, these volunteers participate in life at Community Homestead, a collection of six households including adults with developmental challenges, who together operate an organic dairy farm, CSA garden, bakery, kitchen, winter crafts and wood shop.
All residents are currently transitioning from making candles and weaving rugs to planting vegetables and picking berries with the coming of spring.
However, AmeriCorps Site Supervisor Christine Elmquist says the work of AmeriCorps volunteers extends beyond helping special-needs gardeners and crafters of Community Homestead. AmeriCorps volunteers also serve the wider community of Osceola and the Twin Cities metro area.
“One of the service requirements of AmeriCorps is to do a volunteer project outside of the community and one within the community in an effort to bridge the wider community and nonprofits,” Elmquist said. “Our members do a lot more than one project, because they’re idealistic and very interested in serving all types of people and all types of events.”
Elmquist has lived as a member of Community Homestead for 20 years, during which time she has accepted more than 30 AmeriCorps volunteers.
AmeriCorps is a civil society program supported by the federal government and other donors. Its purpose is to engage adults in intensive community service work. Besides building character, perks of the program include loan forbearance, or a freeze on student loan interest, as well as an education grant.
“We are very careful about who we take because this is a full immersion experience, not a job,” Elmquist said. “So the people that come here are really amazing.”
Chelsea Wagner speaks highly of her experience as a former Community Homestead AmeriCorps volunteer between 2007 and 2008.
“I found that it was a really great experience straight out of college to do something that wasn’t going to hurt my financial situation, but instead helped out my student loans,” Wagner said. “And it was a really handy way to take some time to explore life.”
Wagner now lives full-time at the community with her husband and two boys.
Besides being a fun post-college experience, Wagner said the time she spent at Community Homestead shaped her plans for the future.
“The experience brought some clarity about what I wanted to pursue in a job. And I think for some people it can show them what they don’t want to do which is also valuable,” Wagner said. “But I found that it definitely pointed me towards working with people, and that wasn’t initially my intention. I credit my AmeriCorps experience, and specifically my experience at Community Homestead, for pointing me down that path.”
Current AmeriCorps volunteer Parker Ameel has been at Community Homestead for more than nine months and describes similar life experiences.
“I’ve learned a lot of social and time management skills from working with people in groups and in teams,” Ameel said. “I’ve really been able to take on a task and see it through from beginning to end.”
Ameel has taken part in several volunteer opportunities outside of Community Homestead, coaching the basketball skills team for Polk County Special Olympics, judging a local Destination Imagination competition and working on Habitat for Humanity projects.
And though his Ameri-Corps year will wrap up in June, Ameel looks forward to taking advantage of even more opportunities with the remainder of his time.
“I’m looking forward to developing more skills and hopefully bringing something to the table, more so now that I’m more comfortable in the setting and with my responsibilities,” he said. “I just look forward to doing more.”
Elmquist says the Osceola town and community should expect to see Community Homestead’s AmeriCorps volunteers at local events like farmers markets and Rhubarb Days.
“In the next couple months, we have four new AmeriCorps volunteers arriving,” Elmquist said. “So if you see them in their grey Community Homestead shirts, be sure to say hi!”
To learn more about volunteer opportunities at Community Homestead, visit the organization’s website at communityhomestead.org. Learn more about the AmeriCorps program at www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps.