Youth Opinion : AmeriCorps: Worthy Work, Even Dumpster-Diving

<i> Lina Ericcson is a graduate of UC San Diego. Funding for AmeriCorps has been cut from next year's federal budget. </i>

I served this year as a member of the National Civilian Community Corps, the only residential program of AmeriCorps, the “domestic Peace Corps” pilot program founded by the Clinton Administration. I joined fresh out of college, eager to better my country. I did not fail in my mission and neither did the 20,000 other AmeriCorps members. We blazed a trail that, if allowed to be followed, will lead to better social and environmental conditions in America.

My first project was building, from the ground up, an enclosed aviary/hospital for endangered birds of prey for the Fund for Animals in Ramona--leveling ground, laying a foundation, erecting walls and applying roofing. We learned construction and the fund got a more effective facility for rehabilitating endangered wildlife.

Next, my team spent 10 weeks working with the City of San Diego Waste Management Department, conducting a waste characterization study to gather data on what San Diego businesses were throwing away. This data would then be used to design more effective statewide recycling mandates. We literally “Dumpster-dived,” sorting garbage into more than 100 categories and laboring through considerable stench to separate recyclable plastic from food waste.

After that, I was off to assist with the Red Cross disaster relief efforts in response to the Northern California floods. I worked in the shelters, delivered food to damaged areas and assisted the Red Cross with its accounting function. I do not know how many times people told me, “Thank God you’re here.”


Next, I became a camp counselor at a YMCA sixth-grade winter education camp in Julian. From there, I helped maintain Pacific Crest hiking trails and helped build low-income housing with Habitat for Humanity in Tucson, Ariz.

But AmeriCorps is equally about the effect it has had on me. By living and working with people of every color, class and educational background, I have had the opportunity to understand new perspectives and bridge gaps that exist in society as a whole. As different as everyone on my team was, we became the closest friends, a real family. I learned to understand the pressure of inner-city life, the values of the vegan (no animal product consumption) population, the reasons construction workers whistle and differences inherent in rural lifestyles.

Obviously, AmeriCorps, like the Peace Corps, is an experience that shapes you. I have grown from the people I’ve met, the places I’ve seen, the things I’ve done and the sacrifices I’ve made. My life has meaning, definition and purpose that it lacked before.