AmeriCorps pitches in on Martha’s Vineyard

From left to right backrow: Sidney Morris, Wes Harbison, Alex Gulockus, Walter Whitehead III. Front row: Zackary Hall, Sarah D. Alexander, Scarlette Kinderman, Rhiannon Williams, Meghan Lange. — Photo by Isabella Bennett

Despite grey skies and lethargic rain, The FARM Institute’s belted Galway cows stand alert in their pasture, with ears pricked toward the barn, from which muffled voices and the sound of drilling emanate. Inside, a team of AmeriCorps volunteers is hard at work preparing the space for the flocks of children whowill soon fill it.

This AmeriCorps team consists of eight hard-working individuals between 18 and 25 years old. Since arriving on the Island almost two months ago, they have divided their time between Island Grown Initiative’s Thimble Farm, Camp Jabberwocky, and The FARM Institute — doing everything from herding cows to helping to build Thimble farm’s hydroponic greenhouse. Currently finishing up their final week on the Island, the team has nothing but good things to say about their time here. As the team leader, Sarah D. Alexander, remarked, “The whole team loves the Vineyard, especially me.”

Sarah is a recent graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, where she majored in environmental studies and biology. After graduation, Sarah was looking for hands-on experience in the field of environmental studies, and she applied to be a leader for AmeriCorps. The members of her group couldn’t be happier to have her. Her favorite project on Martha’s Vineyard was helping to build the hydroponic garden at Thimble farm. “We were working on helping putting [the hydroponic system] together and also harvesting and planting new things, so we got to experience every aspect of the project.” Sarah also noted that she is very pleased because, “the team gets along really well together, and we’re learning a lot from each other — everyone is really good at sharing their skills.”

As of Friday, the team will be halfway done with their ten-month commitment to AmeriCorps, and will move on to two more mystery destinations within the remaining five months. Enthusiastic two-time member Zackary Hall had never left his hometown in Virginia before joining AmeriCorps. Zackary described AmeriCorps as a “pretty sweet adventure,” noting that this program has allowed him to travel and see America in a way that he would never have been able to do otherwise.

The members of Buffalo team 3, as they’re known by AmeriCorps, are staying in the cabins at camp Jabberwocky. “The camp is surprisingly old, but very high quality,” Sarah said, voicing the gratitude of the group. “It’s been really, really nice to stay there.” When they’re not on the farm or helping to ready camp Jabberwocky for the coming season, the team is usually out fulfilling some of their required independent service projects (ISPs). Each member must complete 80 ISPs for nonprofit organizations before the end of their time with AmeriCorps. On the Vineyard, the team’s favorite ISP was working on the Seeker, a ship being built in Vineyard Haven. Zackary also mentioned that during a moment of free time, the group took a trip to the Jaws Bridge. He found this event especially intriguing because he is currently deciding between pursuing a bachelor’s degree in film, or joining the Peace Corps after this program concludes.

The single difficulty that Buffalo 3 has run into on the Vineyard is finding affordable food. With a modest meal budget of about $4 a day per person, Sarah confided that she did much of her drygoods shopping before arriving. Ruminating on the laborious experience of growing fresh foods and the high prices that then accompany these goods, Sarah explained, “Seeing where food comes from and the work that goes into growing one head of lettuce, for example, has been really valuable for us, but it’s certainly not cheap here.”

The project placements for this AmeriCorps program are “similar to a deck of cards, in that they shuffle them and then divvy them at random,” Zackary explained. “I didn’t know that this was an island, actually, until we got here.”

Now that he’s gotten to know Martha’s Vineyard a bit better, Zackary remarked, “Everyone seems to be really passionate about what they do — they strive for it — it seems to me that to live on the Island you have to be.”

This group seems to share that passion. As Sidney Morris, the FARM institute’s ambassador at large, put it, “The Buffalo 3 team of the NCCC AmeriCorps program has been virtually indispensable to the sustainability of several nonprofits on the Island this spring. The FARM Institute, IGI’s Thimble Farm, and Camp Jabberwocky all rely on the help of donors and volunteers to carry out our missions. This group of young, energetic, motivated individuals has admirably renewed the spirit and ethic of service that AmeriCorps has brought to Martha’s Vineyard during the last few years. They’ve been building, cleaning, painting, weeding, raking, planting, mucking, moving, lifting, carrying, shingling, fencing, and generally pitching in on any task or challenge they’re given. Working with them to get the jobs done has been a wonderful experience.”

Upon their departure from Martha’s Vineyard, the group will return to their home-base in Maryland, one of the five AmeriCorps bases scattered across America. Until they reach Maryland, the team will not know their next destination. With their work ethic, wherever they go next will be lucky to have them.