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Americorps lend helping hand to area nonprofits
by Cynthia Petersen · May 22nd, 2014

Granger House Museum director, Kathy Wilson, said she wished she could adopt the service workers from Americorps NCCC, who have been volunteering their time to haul bricks from Hanna Park to the house on 10th Street.

"These kids are amazing," she said. "I can't say enough good things about them. They are hard working and so willing to help others."

Wilson, who has been getting the museum ready for the upcoming season, said she didn't know how she was going to get the 60,000 bricks needed for the planned driveway and parking lot that will be going in at the Granger House.

"The city donated the bricks removed during the first part of their renovation project to revitalize the downtown district," she said, adding that the Granger grounds renovation fits into the district's overall plan. "I believe the Granger House Museum is one of cornerstones of the cultural district, and because we've wanted a driveway and parking area for a long time, our former director, Barbara Feller, jumped at the chance to have the original bricks from the streets of Marion as part of the plan. We just had to find a way to get the bricks here."

Wilson said she was contacted by Corey Kaye, Program Office Support Team Leader for the Americorpss NCCC base in Vinton because teams helped at the Granger House last fall.

"I am not considered a service project because I don't have enough work to keep them busy," she said. "They have been volunteering their spare time on the weekends to help me. These kids are awesome. I'm really going to miss them."

The service workers (they can't be called volunteers, according to Arthur Iannacone, the point of contact person from the Americorps NCCC group, because they get a small living allowance) have been helping Wilson most every weekend since mid-March.

The group has been staying at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton since they arrived Feb. 11.

The teams of nine are assigned service projects to help nonprofit organizations in the area, but Iannacone said the teams have the opportunity to work extra jobs to earn points, which will count toward the 100 service points they hope to obtain to earn the Presidential Service Award at the end of their 10-month stints in the field.

Some of the organizations the team has helped in the area include Matthew 25, the HACAP Food Reservoir, and Feed Iowa.

"We have been helping different groups with urban farming," said Iannacone. "We helped Matthew 25 plant seeds in their community garden and we helped Sonia Kendrick, who owns eight acres of land in Cedar Rapids, with planting as well."

He explained that Kendrick started Feed Iowa First with Alliance Church a few years ago to help feed the community.

"She grows vegetables organically, without pesticides, and then donates everything," he said. "She is going to need more help. It will be hard for her to take care of eight acres of land by herself."

Service workers from Americorpss NCCC originate from all over the country; from the east to the west coast and from the pacific-northwest to the south.

Iannacone, who is from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, echoed the voices of his team members; he joined Americorps NCCC because he wanted to travel, meet people, and he likes to work hard.

"I saw a lot of opportunities," he said.

He explained that service workers in Americorps NCCC sign up for a 10-month commitment and can serve up to two years. The members are initially trained in different types of service work, but they are also trained in other areas and hold team "jobs" such as public relations, medic, and service learning initiator.

Iannacone said his job as service learning initiator includes helping his team members reflect on why they are helping others and what the impact is on the community they are helping.

Iannacone said he might join up for another year, maybe as a support leader working in the office. If he doesn't do that, he is thinking about attending graduate school. He previously graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill majoring in English and creative writing. He journals every day, he said, making notes about the work they did and how much work was done, including how many seeds planted and how many bricks they moved, but isn't sure yet if he will write about his experiences, in general.

And when the team isn't working, they are gathered in Vinton doing team-building exercises and other activities.

"We work together, live together cook together; we're a family," he said. "We have to be. Otherwise it wouldn't work."

Other members include Brent Lowe, Atlanta, Georgia; Victoria Haddad, Marimac, New Hampshire; Jason Armani, Pontiac, Michigan; Brandon Spence, Hartford, Connecticut; Travis Hanes, Shelton, Washington; and Kola Egbaiyelo, Washington D.C.

Egbaiyelo said what she likes most about serving with her team members is that it's so diversified. "There are so many people of different backgrounds and cultures," she said. "I like talking with them about where they're from and how different our lives are."

She said she joined because she wanted to help others, but also because she would like to start a nonprofit of her own when she gets home.

"I would really like to start a dance studio. I already teach my team members to dance, and I thought it would be cool if others were able to learn to dance for free."

Egbaiyelo attended military school before joining Americorps NCCC and said it prepared her for her experience.

"We work very hard, but it's worth it," she said. "We have so much fun working together."

The Americorps teams' next stop is Beatrice, Neb., where they will help clear away brush and thistle to help a nonprofit organization preserve prairie grass.

"We go where we are needed," said Iannacone. "And we are always happy to help."

Side Bar:

There are many volunteer opportunities at the Granger House Museum. Help is still needed to haul the bricks, as well as other duties at the Granger House. Please contact Kathy Wilson at (319) 377-6672 or email her at
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