Imagine graduating from high school and, within months, finding yourself in the midst of a disaster relief effort working alongside the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Peter Spinale, a current freshman at Texas Christian University, spent last year traveling around the USA as part of a year-long, gap year experience with the AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps).
NCCC members work together as a team.
Peter’s team of eleven (including one leader) was one of seven teams based out of Denver, Colorado. The team’s first assignment started out in an Oklahoma State Park with the work focused on welding safety railings and learning many new carpentry and constructions skills.
“We learned a lot, but we were all anxious to make a difference, and working in the park did not always feel meaningful enough,” said Peter.
That all changed when a call came from St. Louis to come assist other NCCC teams and FEMA with disaster relief from the extreme flooding of the Mississippi River. Peter and his crew spent days mucking and gutting houses—parts of many homes had to be demolished so construction workers could rebuild. Peter witnessed how devastating a disaster could be when he saw the sheer numbers of families displaced from their homes. Many personal items were contaminated, and it was heartbreaking to have to cart possessions such as family photographs and much-needed clothes to the sidewalk for trash pick up.
NCCC is one branch of AmeriCorps, a national service organization.
“People were so grateful, crying with happiness and appreciation for the help that we and many others gave them,” said Peter. “The work humbled me.”
Peter enjoyed the range of projects and one of his favorites was working in a K-to-8 school in Kansas City. Many of the students enrolled in the school were at the poverty line, and the school was under scrutiny for performance based on state assessments of academic performance.
Peter’s team worked as teacher’s aides for a bridge program to support student academic work, while also helping them have more fun at school by engaging them with sports and activities during free periods.
“ The kids were great,” said Peter. “We really got to know and like them so much.”
Participating in a program such as NCCC is hard work and requires a strong commitment, but Peter highly recommends it. Beyond the work, there are many social opportunities and the team members form close bonds that are more like family than mere friendships.
NCCC members serve in many different capacities all over the US.
“I matured a lot and came home with a stronger work ethic,” said Peter. “I feel I am a much more empathetic person too.”
Peter is studying athletic training in college. He applied and was accepted to a program that had him arriving on campus early last fall to shadow the football team trainer. No doubt his experience with NCCC helped in that selection process.
AmeriCorps volunteers in NCCC get a stipend and living expenses paid for as well as a grant toward college tuition once they complete the program. This is an example of a gap year that is virtually no cost to the student.
See more on gap years from our blog: