- Associated Press - Saturday, March 11, 2017

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) - In August of 2016 Daniel Comer left Atlanta for Corvallis.

“I just drove across the country and moved in,” he said.

Comer, 23, had just graduated from Florida Southern College, and didn’t know what he wanted to do. So he joined AmeriCorps and was deployed to Corvallis as part of the Youth Volunteer Corps.

He moved into an office at the Corvallis Parks and Recreation Department, which has been working with the YVC for more than 20 years. Comer does some work for the department, but his main duties are to work with Corvallis-area youth on volunteer projects and mentoring.

“I have an extremely busy schedule,” said Comer, who has a color-coded wipe board on his office wall that has multiple items on every date.

“I’ve come to the office or to a project 20 days in a row,” Comer said. “It’s been a very rewarding experience. I feel real good about it.”

But that doesn’t mean it has been easy. The salary is not, shall we say, excessive, and like a lot of young adults in Corvallis he lives with three roommates he found online.

“It was kind of a life wakeup call,” he said. “I grew up on the privileged side of things. It’s a different culture here, a different climate. I went to a private school with a beautiful campus. I was living in a bubble. I had friends all around me and the beach was right there.”

Meanwhile, his office in Avery Park is across a parking lot from a seasonal wetland.

The AmeriCorps experience has also been an opportunity for personal growth, he said.

“Communication skills, event planning, organizing . I’ve grown in leaps and bounds,” he said. “And I can take this experience and use it in the future. That was something I didn’t expect. Down the line I will think this was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”

Comer recently received a national honor from YVC for his work in the winter season. Deb Curtis, a 16-year Parks and Recreation employee who supervises the YVC program, raves about Comer, noting the sheer volume of projects he is able to tackle as well as changing the dynamic of who the program reaches.

Daniel has reached out to a broader cross section of youth in our community,” she said. “He has provided more opportunities for youth to get involved each month.”

The job requires more than organizing crews of 11- to 18-year-olds for can and bottle drives. Comer also is required to set up a youth advisory board. And after a divisive 2016 presidential election Comer sensed that his crew was a little confused by things.

So he set up an exercise in which he showed the kids pictures - the rapper Drake, the girls who integrated the Little Rock High School in 1957, President Trump, a shot of the Earth from space and a Dust Bowl family, among others.

“It gave them an opportunity to talk about the election,” Comer said. “I was just trying to find a way to make it better . give them a positive outlook on things.”

Comer has applied to three graduate schools - Northwestern, Syracuse and Texas - and hopes to pursue a career in sports media. And if he surpasses 1,700 hours during his YVC stint he receives $5,000 that he can apply to his tuition.

His goal? To be the Atlanta voice on the ESPN program “Around the Horn.”

Atlanta’s kind of ignored,” he said, then added “man, I wish the Falcons had won the Super Bowl.”

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