- Associated Press - Monday, May 22, 2017

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) - After graduating from college, Rachel Cain decided she wanted to complete a year of service.

“I wanted to give back to various communities,” the Maryland native told The Jonesboro Sun (http://bit.ly/2qwRNYz ).

She is now seven months into her 10-month term with the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, a full-time national service program that has up to 2,200 adults, age 18-24, serving nationwide each year.

Cain’s eight-member team has been in Jonesboro since May 1, working 40 hours a week regardless of the weather. They are building a community garden and preparing a greenhouse for the 109 residents of the Jonesboro Human Development Center to use.

The center is located on about 300 acres alongside Southside Softball Complex off of Stadium Boulevard and provides 24-hour residential services for adults with intellectual challenges. Previously, it only included a sensory garden for residents, who have already shown interest in the new garden spaces.

“It’s fantastic,” Cain said. “We’ve been able to meet a few of the residents. They’ll come out and help. It means a lot for them to come and help, and for us to get to know who we will be directly impacting. They are appreciative.”

Once complete, residents will have the chance to continue working in the gardens and to sell any produce grown at farmers’ markets. Cynthia Wilson, the Jonesboro site’s volunteer coordinator, said they are always looking for opportunities to teach their residents new skills to improve their lives.

“I think it is going to be an awesome opportunity for our residents to learn how to maintain gardens in their own houses and for employment opportunities,” she added. “… The main goal is to provide skills for them to be successful in life.”

The work began after AmeriCorps volunteered services to the Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Development Disabilities. That meant working to help design, construct and begin planting sustainable garden spaces that will serve the state’s five human development centers by providing agricultural education and outdoor recreation while encouraging healthy eating and lifestyles.

This is the first AmeriCorps team to volunteer with the state division.

Prior to Jonesboro, the AmeriCorps team arrived April 11 to train in Conway and spent two weeks at the human development center in Booneville. They will spend two weeks each at the human development centers in Conway, Warren and Arkadelphia. They leave Arkansas on July 7.

The work marks Cain’s first visit to Arkansas. She said her team is getting to see the state as they travel to various human development centers.

It is her team’s final project before they graduate from AmeriCorps on July 14. Their work has ranged from community gardens to helping low-income individuals with their taxes.

Diane Keith, interim superintendent of the Jonesboro site, is thankful they were able to help. She said their work will make a difference for all residents.

“Eventually, a farmers’ market will be set up near the road to sell,” she said. “It’s going to be great.”

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Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, http://www.jonesborosun.com

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