From Staff Reports
Tackling deferred maintenance on Forest Service buildings may not be a typical job for the AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team.
However, this team looks for any opportunity to help out America.
In this instance, they are saving taxpayer money for maintenance on federal facilities while practicing with tools and techniques they may use in future emergency assignments.
Five members of this crew were in Rolla, Mo., last month, giving a facelift to storage buildings around the Mark Twain National Forest Supervisor’s Office (SO).
Although only five members are on this project, the entire AmeriCorps St. Louis team consists of 35 people. They respond to natural disasters and other emergencies across the United States, and they perform natural resource management work, such as trail maintenance.
When not actively working in disaster recovery, team members take on other assignments that benefit the nation and train them to be ready to respond whenever the need arises.
The five-person crew working in Rolla was led by Brittany Merriman. Other members of the team include: Jane Kersch (from Iowa), Stephen Strack (from upstate New York), Colleen Cole (from St. Louis), and Matthew Farrington (from Virginia).
This is Merriman’s third year working with AmeriCorps, and she is now plans and leads projects as a Fellow — the Eli Segal Fellowship is a highly competitive and prestigious fellowship for AmeriCorps alumni.
She found AmeriCorps when she decided she wanted to take on a new direction in her life. When searching online for a way to satisfy her adventurous spirit, she found the AmeriCorps St. Louis website.
Being from St. Louis, and finding the disaster relief aspect very exciting, she knew it would be a perfect fit — and she has proven it through her many accomplishments within the program.
This Missouri AmeriCorps team does national response, but also local response. Although they have to be requested to respond to an incident, they are always ready to assist. This year, the team had one local assignment where they helped with tornado response efforts in Goodman, Mo.
The interactions with people in need are what keeps Merriman and other crew members so motivated to continue their service work.
“The people I meet through the program are amazing — both in AmeriCorps and the people we help through disasters and tough times,” said Merriman. “We don’t ever stay in the same spot.”
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They move every week to work with different partners. Many assignments involve the Forest Service and its mission.
Merriman said that the crew performs wildland fire response associated with Forest Service land. They have worked out of Ava, Doniphan, Potosi, Salem, and many other places on the Mark Twain National Forest in Merriman’s time on the crew.
She said, “Working with the Forest Service, we learn so much and there are so many opportunities for people to gain experiences that can lead to potential careers.”
Crew members often become certified in chainsaw use to facilitate the natural resource and disaster recovery work to which they respond.
Many members end up going into wildland firefighting, with some joining hotshot crews. Others have gone on to work for FEMA and states’ departments of natural resources.
Members of the AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team are all volunteers and serve the public. Aside from the opportunity to serve and gaining on-the-job training, the program allows participants to receive a Siegal Education Award. This award helps pay for college, allowing participants to further their education.
According to the Corporation of National and Community Service website, the education award may be used to pay educational costs at eligible post-secondary educational institutions (including many technical schools and GI-Bill approved educational programs), as well as to repay qualified student loans.
The dollar amount of a full-time education award is tied to the maximum amount of the U.S. Department of Education’s Pell Grant.
“You never know where your time in AmeriCorps will lead,” said Merriman. “I know one person that went on to become a neurosurgeon after completing the program.”
Anyone interested in joining the team can visit www.AmeriCorps-stl.org.
“It is a big commitment for a year, but it includes a housing and food stipend,” Merriman said.
There is no upward age range on this crew, but joining is very competitive. Merriman also promised the program can help anyone improve their critical thinking skills by responding to such a variety of challenges.
The Mark Twain National Forest is excited that this year the team branched out to do facilities work to help train for disaster repair.
Follow the AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AmeriCorpsSTL.