AmeriCorps Helps Focus the Futures of Two Gap Year Students

Two recent high school grads discuss their year dedicated to service work across the country.

AmeriCorps members Brendan Goth and Christie Haas pose after a mud fight at The Oregon Gardens in Silverton, Ore., where they removed non-native plants.

The team's final service project will begin in June and will be outside of New Orleans working with the St. Bernard Parish Project. The team members will be trained as site supervisors to oversee other volunteers assisting victims of Hurricane Katrina with repairs to their homes, Goth says.

[Read 7 Questions to Ask When Considering a Gap Year.]

Overcoming New Challenges

Both Goth and Haas said that learning to work, live, and get along with a close-knit group of 10 people 24 hours a day, seven days a week was a big challenge and adjustment. "We all have different ideas and everyone wants their opinion heard," Haas says. "Usually we work it out. We've grown very close over the last few months. Sometimes we have issues, but we love each other." Goth says it's been tough finding alone time since he is always around his group, but he manages to carve out a little personal time each day. 

Another difficulty Goth cites is facing an eight-hour day, usually filled with manual labor, five days a week. "Our project in Oregon was particularly tough for me because we were working outside during the rainy season in the winter with 30-degree weather. So just getting myself up and out of bed, and getting to work was a challenge," Goth says. In addition to their work week, he says they usually devote to another day on their weekends doing "independent service projects." All NCCC members are required to complete a total of 80 hours worth of individual service in communities in which they are working. The team members also have to deal with little sleep at times. For example, one recent weekend, Goth and Haas completed their eight-hour work day with Habitat for Humanity on a Saturday (their work week lasts from Tuesday through Saturday) and then were up volunteering for a local Relay For Life event from Saturday evening through Sunday morning. 

Long Term Benefits

"I definitely feel like this program, especially for people right out of high school, helps you mature," Haas says. "With NCCC, you're going out on your own, taking care of yourself, having to cooperate with different people, and moving every few months. It gives you insight into how other people live." 

Goth also says participating in NCCC has readied him for college. "NCCC has driven work ethic into me. It's broadened what I think I could do with my life because all of these projects are things that I would've never even consider doing ... Then you go and do them, and think, 'Wow, I'm actually pretty good at them.'"

Not only did Haas and Goth learn from the service projects, but they also learned from each other. Haas encouraged Goth to apply to Warren Wilson College, in Asheville, N.C., where she had deferred attendance until this fall. "The more I thought about it, the more I thought Brendan would actually love this school," Haas says. She said as she was telling him about the school, his mom called and told him she found a great college for him to apply to: Warren Wilson. Goth says he applied for the spring 2011 semester, and is waiting to hear back. He will attend a community college near Cincinnati this fall. 

Both say they were attracted to Warren Wilson because of its focus on environmental sustainability and volunteering. Haas says she'd like to major in outdoor leadership and possibly minor in photojournalism, since she was a photojournalist on her NCCC team, as was Goth. While Goth says he is still unsure of what he'd like to major in during college, he's now committed to continuing service work. "Through AmeriCorps, I realized how great service work can be. [At] Warren Wilson College, you're required to do service work while you're there, so that will definitely encourage me to keep going with it." 

Haas says AmeriCorps has strengthened her interest in joining the Peace Corps after finishing college. "I can definitely see myself volunteering throughout the rest of my life," Haas says. "AmeriCorps instills a sense of service in you." 

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