Alicia Munchel, Brookville, was one of 479 AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) members who graduated July 26 after completing over half a million hours of service and over 275 projects, including 78 disaster recovery ones.
The 24-year-old reported by e-mail Aug. 23, “In college I was involved in a national service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, and did a lot of community service. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for my career after college, but I knew service was important to me, so I started looking into short-term service programs. AmeriCorps NCCC gave me the opportunity to serve others while seeing a lot of different places. It was a good fit for me.”
She was assigned to NCCC’s Southwest Region Campus in Denver and arrived Oct. 9, 2012, to begin her 10 months of service. “I was in Denver for one month of training, as well as between projects.”
The daughter of Jerry and Kim Munchel was part of a team of nine other members who completed a series of projects, typically lasting six to eight weeks each. She recalls, “My most meaningful project was four weeks spent in the small town of Howe, Okla. There, my team restored a drainage ditch that had been constructed during the Great Depression ... It was originally built to help prevent malaria, but now it is the only drainage channel to move water away from the town. The people of Howe were so appreciative of our work and went out of their way to support us and show us their gratitude. I really felt like we were helping them.”
Scenes from one project in Colorado Springs, Colo., will stay with the Franklin County High School graduate. “My team was some of the first people to respond to the Black Forest fire. We were on scene within an hour of when it started, fighting it right at the flame front. That first day we dug fire line for about seven hours straight. Digging line means clearing a line of vegetation 12-18 inches wide to create a break in the fuels that the fire requires. When the fire reaches the line, there is nothing for it to burn, which in theory will stop it. You also have to account for aerial fuels and chainsaw down trees to make sure the fire won’t get into the treetops and cross the line there.
“The first day the fire did get into the canopy right in front of us and jumped our line. The tops of the trees were torching with flames. It was certainly eye-opening to see how powerful a wildfire is and how powerless we are to stop it. My team was on the fire for nine days.”
Two other projects were at a Boys & Girls Club in Farmington, N.M.; and working at Ferncliff Camp just outside of Little Rock, Ark.
Munchel admits, “My favorite project was the one in Howe, but my favorite place was Colorado Springs. There was a lot to do in the Springs and it is just such a beautiful place with the mountains so close.”
On the other hand, she reflects, “A low point would just be getting burnt out on service at some point. It’s an incredible thing to do, but doing it as a full-time gig can be challenging. You have to remind yourself why you do it.”
Now that her stint has ended, Munchel may have more time for her favorite pastimes – running, reading, boating on the lake and, more recently, scuba diving.
True to form, she is being active right now. “After graduation I returned home to Indiana to spend a few days with family. I then caught a bus to Maine with a friend who was on my team in AmeriCorps, and we began hiking the Appalachian Trail Aug. 3 with hopes of reaching Georgia by Christmas. We have hiked 256 miles as of this morning,” she said Aug. 23. “Maine is beautiful, but we’ll soon be in the rocky state of New Hampshire.”
Munchel graduated from Indiana University in May 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in biology. In the future, “I would like to do something along the lines of environmental science or marine biology.”
Her NCCC experience has given the young Hoosier another job possibility. “I gained several useful skills, including time management, how to work effectively on a team and communication skills. I also received very specific training for wildland firefighting, which I am considering putting to use doing a couple of seasons on a fire crew.”
Thinking back about her altruistic work, she realizes, “Something I’ll certainly always have with me from this experience is just the people. I met so many incredible people. People willing to tell you about their town, what it’s like there, challenges they face. People willing to share their story and listen to yours.”
“My term with AmeriCorps let me see a variety of communities in our country. I learned that regardless of how different communities may be, all have challenges they have to overcome.”
Debbie Blank can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.
Program details • AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (www.nationalservice.gov) is a full-time, residential, national service program. During their 10-month terms, members "work on teams of eight to 12 on projects that address critical needs related to natural and other disasters, infrastructure improvement, environmental stewardship and conservation, energy conservation, and urban and rural development," explains Heather Dirck, AmeriCorps NCCC Southwest Region Campus community relations specialist. • AmeriCorps NCCC, administered by the Corp. for National and Community Service, certifies 100 percent of its members in disaster relief, and has responded to national disasters since the program began in 1994. • There are four other NCCC campuses located in Sacramento, Calif.; Perry Point, Md.; Vicksburg, Miss.; and Vinton, Iowa, each of which is a hub for its respective area of the country, though teams will travel to other regions for disaster relief projects. • In exchange for their service, members receive $5,550 to help pay for college or to pay back existing student loans. According to Dirck, "Other benefits include a small living stipend, room and board, leadership development, increased self-confidence and the knowledge that, through active citizenship, people can indeed make a difference."