AmeriCorps team working in region

AmeriCorps teams are made up of seven 18- to 24-year-olds from all across the country. The River 1 team based in Front Royal is made up of Will Koppang, 19, of Plymouth, Massachusetts; Maggie Mayer, 23, of Seattle, Washington; Thomas Ventura, 18, of Aberdeen, Maryland; Ashley McCane, 20, of Cincinnati, Ohio; Paul Podawiltz, 21, of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin; Jenna Jesson, 23, of Long Beach, California; and Seatra Hudson, 24, of New York City. Hilary Legge/Daily
AmeriCorps NCCC River 1 team member Jenna Jesson adds debris to a pile that has been removed from a stream behind the property of Social Graces Ballroom Dance Studio at 636 E. Main St. in Berryville. Hilary Legge/Daily
AmeriCorps River 1 team members Thomas Ventura and Maggie Mayer work to clean up the overgrown woods behind the property of Social Graces Ballroom Dance Studio at 636 E. Main St. in Berryville. Hilary Legge/Daily

BERRYVILLE – An AmeriCorps team with the National Civilian Community Corps is spending six weeks in the Shenandoah Valley to provide assistance to area nonprofits and work on community projects.

The team, River 1, arrived to the area at the beginning of June and is being sponsored by the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission. During their time here, corps members are working with the Josephine City Neighborhood Improvement Project, the Downstream Project and the Literacy Project to repair homes, improve landscapes, and create, distribute and analyze community data regarding attitudes and perceptions of literacy.

On Thursday, team members spent the day at Social Graces Ballroom Dance Studio in Berryville. On Saturday, the studio held a grand opening and the group helped them prepare with landscaping and clean up around the property. Earlier in the week, they did similar work at Clermont Farm.

“We also worked in the town of Stanley, doing a lot of public works and landscaping as well,” said team leader Maggie Mayer. “We just get our little team of seven members and kind of truck around to wherever we’re needed.”

While often their work is labor-intensive, they are also working with Literacy Volunteers in Winchester to build awareness in the area. They attended meetings of the Winchester City Council and North End Citizens Association to discuss the topic, and are planning a community engagement event on Wednesday.

During their stay, the team tours localities to learn about and experience the area they’re helping. They’ve visited Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park, as well as Old Town Winchester.

Their presence came about due to the commission applying for volunteers in the region, said Corps Project Manager Alex Schweiger.

“It’s a pretty rigorous application process. You have to identify the tasks the team would complete while in the region,” he said.  “We had them focusing on community development issues as well as natural resource issues.”

This team is classified as an education group, meaning that every member is working toward some kind of educational goal, ranging from finishing GED tests to studying for the GRE. “We thought with that team it would be pretty cool to line them up with Literacy Volunteers,” said Schweiger.

Even with all the hard work, becoming a member of an AmeriCorps team is viewed by all of them as rewarding and beneficial.

“This was honestly one of the best decisions that I’ve made,” said Mayer. “We’ve all been working on so many aspects of ourselves that it’s super rewarding. Plus, you get to work with all of these small town nonprofits and those, I feel, [are] some of the best types of people.”

Team member Janna Jenson also noted, “It feels amazing to do something with my hands and to see the result in front of me. It’s kind of spectacular.”

River 1 is one of 14 teams currently deployed in the Southern Region, which consists of 11 states. Members serve 10-month terms from February to November and will travel to approximately six different areas within their region for projects. This is their third stop thus far; they have also spent weeks in Louisiana and Mississippi. When their time in the valley is complete, they will return to the Gulf Coast for a Habitat for Humanity build.

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