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Volunteers give parks a pick-me-up

May 26, 2019

Ten volunteers in the National Civilian Community Corps have camped in Oxbow Park and worked at various parks in Olmsted County for most of the month of May.

The group arrived May 6 and will work on different projects until they leave May 31, explained the group’s media representative, Daniel Coman.

The group is headquartered in Iowa. The team leader is Ramon Hilliard, who is from Maryland.

The group has planted trees, cleaned out exhibits at Zollman Zoo, worked on a 30-acre controlled burn at Chester Woods and done work to help control invasive species.

“We cleared out buckthorn just yesterday,” Coman mused.

The volunteers are from all across the United States. Coman, Hannah Stephens and Brittany Sykes are all from North Carolina. Luke Robbins is from Louisiana, Travis Simmons is from Oklahoma, Matthew Owens and Ashlyn Lutz are from Florida and Yasith Yansanayake is from Phoenix.

To volunteer in this particular part of AmeriCorps, volunteers must be between age 18 and 24.

They are provided with room and board and travel expenses during the months they are deployed across the nation.

“It’s a great way to spend a gap year,” said Coman.

More and more college-age students are taking a gap year from their studies and a ‘service’ year looks good on your resume, he said. There are four women and six men in the group.

“You get to travel, meet lots of people, do different things. It’s really great,” he said.

The volunteers sign up for 11 months. Between projects, or “spikes,” the group returns to one of four main campuses for the National Civilian Community Corps. One of those is in Iowa, and that campus is where this group came from. A spike is a project that takes place at least 50 miles away from campus.

Coman said the group has three physical activity sessions per week to help them stay in shape because most of the volunteer work they do involves physical labor.

“Everyone is encouraged to do their best when we’re working on these tasks, but not to over exert themselves,’ he emphasized.

The volunteers buy groceries and cook for themselves at the campsite.

“We have vegans, vegetarians and people with food allergies, so it’s pretty much cook for yourself,” Coman explained.

They do receive a small stipend.

Oxbow Park Manager Lonnie Hebl said the volunteers were very welcome.

“Oxbow wouldn’t be the park it is without our volunteer base, whether we get that through a grant program like this or our regular group of volunteers. When we add up the volunteer hours at the end of the year, it’s the equivalent of six full-time employees,” he said.

Carlin Zeigler, Olmsted County parks superintendent, wrote the grant request for the volunteers, said Hebl.

He said this group of Americorps volunteers will be headed to Michigan next.