- Associated Press - Sunday, August 10, 2014

DANVILLE, Iowa (AP) - There’s a lot of things Ryan Cuttler didn’t know how to do before joining AmeriCorps.

That’s part of the reason he joined, The Hawk Eye reported (https://bit.ly/1u0E1JV ).

“I didn’t know how to put up siding until I joined AmeriCorps,” he said with a grin.

Cuttler and half-a-dozen other AmeriCorps volunteers spent one of their Saturdays cleaning up Camp L-Kee-Ta - a regional Girl Scout camp nestled between Danville and the Skunk River. The team has been traveling the state and volunteering at Iowa’s four Girl Scout camps throughout the summer, starting at Camp Conestoga in New Liberty at the end of June. After spending a couple of days working at Camp L-Kee-Ta and the Girl Scout office in West Burlington, the volunteers moved on to Camp Tahigwa in Dorchester. Their final stop will be at Camp Little Cloud in Epworth, wrapping up service work that was contracted through the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois with a grant.

“It’s been a very rewarding experience so far,” Cuttler said.

Cuttler, 19, makes his home in Syracuse, New York, but has been living at the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps campus in Vinton since February. He’ll complete his 10 months of service this November, which is the same time the rest of his group will graduate.

The NCC engages 18- to 24-year-olds in team-based national and community service, and many of the youth who join do so before college. There are only five NCC campuses in the country, including the one in Vinton.

“I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to go drop thousands of dollars on college right away,” Cutter said. “I was working some jobs right after high school, one as a summer camp counselor, and then I found out about the AmeriCorps program.”

The group helping at Camp L-Kee-Ta is comprised of youth from across the country, ranging from southern California and Indiana to New York and Massachusetts. They recently spent some time in Michigan helping with a YMCA education program, and recently did some conservation maintenance in South Dakota.

For many of the youth, it’s the adventure of a lifetime.

“It’s been amazing. It’s really opened my eyes to a lot of things,” said 19-year-old Belle Kiley of Exeter, New Hampshire. “I’ve gone to a lot of neat places. I wasn’t too familiar with how nonprofits work before I got started.”

Kiley wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life before joining AmeriCorps, and she’s still trying to decide between graphic design and working with animals. She also has a passion for humanitarian work, and that has been reinforced through her time working on service projects.

“America kind of forgets there’s human slavery and sex trafficking abuse in the United States, because it’s usually focused on other countries,” she said. “It’s very sickening to know what is going on in the U.S. I want to raise awareness for that and help women. It has to stop.”

Rachel Canning, 20, lives outside of Philadelphia and dreamed about joining the Peace Corps since she was a little girl. She wanted to stay stateside, though, and found AmeriCorps to be the perfect fit. The organization often is referred to as the domestic Peace Corps, and she’s been forging friendships that will last a lifetime.

“It’s awesome. We’re with our team 24/7. We eat, sleep, work and play together,” she said.

Of course, not everyone is prepared to spend 10 months away from home and live with strangers. Each NCC group usually consists of 10 to 12 people, but the Canning’s group has had a few dropouts due to homesickness. Now it’s down to seven people, making it one of the smaller groups in the state.

Canning isn’t immune to homesickness, but she would never give up the opportunity to make a difference.

“I’ve been away from home for a few weeks at a time before, but I’m really close to my family, so that’s the most challenging part,” she said.

You don’t have to be a U.S. citizen to join, either. Robyn Philips, 24, is a native of Jamaica and has lived in Maryland the past two years. She plans to become a citizen soon and now is classified as a resident alien.

“I’ve never been to the Midwest before, and everything is so different. Everyone is just different here. People are so much nicer compared to the East Coast,” she said.

Most of the group’s time was spend sanding and re-staining bunk beds in the troop house, tearing down old structures and clearing brush.

The 150-acre camp has hosted more than 3,000 Girls Scouts and parents over the past fiscal year and is available for rental by anyone.

For more information on how to rent part of the camp, call the Girl Scout office in West Burlington at (319) 752-3639.


Information from: The Hawk Eye, https://www.thehawkeye.com

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