AmeriCorps members dig the gig to get things done

Gena Kraha, Katie Woodzick and Jasper Hein take a breather at the South Whidbey Commons Backroom from their usually busy days at Island Coffeehouse & Books.   - Patricia Duff / The Record
Gena Kraha, Katie Woodzick and Jasper Hein take a breather at the South Whidbey Commons Backroom from their usually busy days at Island Coffeehouse & Books.
— image credit: Patricia Duff / The Record

They come to serve the community, but also realize they’ve served themselves as well.

South Whidbey has become familiar with the faces of AmeriCorps members bopping about town serving the community in myriad ways for years.

Currently, the two AmeriCorps members serving the South End have embraced their time in the community with a vitality and vigor that will be remembered.

Katie Woodzick and Jasper Hein are both 20-something, highly motivated individuals who work with local youths through Island Coffeehouse & Books, Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, the South Whidbey Commons and the local schools.

AmeriCorps will bask in the glow of the success of its members this week as it celebrates AmeriCorps Week 2009 today through Saturday, May 16. Most are young people who, even before President Obama sparked the fire toward community service, were willing to sign up and help out.

Woodzick said she likes to describe AmeriCorps as a kind of domestic Peace Corps, but one where you’re still able to enjoy the luxury of a bed and a bathroom.

Woodzick and Hein serve through the Washington Service Corps Individual Placement Program, which engages AmeriCorps members ages 18 to 25 in service with local community-based and nonprofit organizations, schools and other entities.

Hein fell into his AmeriCorps membership by chance when a spot opened up unexpectedly.

Having grown up on Whidbey, Hein jumped at the chance to give back to the community and is pleasantly surprised by what he’s discovered about his hometown.

“I didn’t truly know what the coffeehouse was about,” Hein said.

“Seeing what is here for the local youths is incredible; what the community has happening here is pretty great. It’s encouraging to see that this goes on,” he said, referring to the various youth programs designed by the South Whidbey Commons organization.

Island Coffeehouse & Books is a community café run by students who work as the café’s baristas.

It is also a showcase for young local artists who engage in programs designed to develop their skills in music, visual art, poetry and prose. Through programs like Friday Night Live, Youth In Philanthropy and the sales of youth art, young people are provided a space where they can practice artistic visions and lend service to the South End of Whidbey Island.

“It’s about reclaiming community space,” Hein said.

“For me, it’s about creating community where it’s been lost.”

Whether in service to make a community safer, give a child a second chance, or help protect the environment, AmeriCorps volunteers live up to the organization’s tag line: “Getting things done.”

In 1993, when President Bill Clinton signed the National and Community Service Trust Act, which established the Corporation for National and Community Service and brought the full range f domestic community service programs under the umbrella of one central organization, AmeriCorps was born.

The following year, Clinton spoke to the first class of AmeriCorps members.

“Service is a spark to rekindle the spirit of democracy in an age of uncertainty. When it is all said and done, it comes down to three simple questions: What is right? What is wrong? And what are we going to do about it?” he said.

Young adults from various parts of the country have been doing something about it for three years on South Whidbey.

Although they may be only one small blip on the national organization’s radar, the AmeriCorps members of South Whidbey embed themselves in a community that welcomes their motivation toward service.

Woodzick hails from Wisconsin and heard about the AmeriCorps program through a friend after graduating from college.

Her 10½ months of service to South Whidbey will earn her a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award of $4,725 to pay for college, graduate school, or to pay back qualified student loans.

Members such as Hein who serve part-time receive a partial award. Some AmeriCorps members may also receive a modest living allowance during their term of service.

Woodzick plans on using her award toward a master of fine arts degree in theater direction.

She has been able to extend her service under the auspices of Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. At WICA, she has been a staff intern and contributed to the summer conservatory program this past summer, working with young actors and directing the musical portion of a production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” while doing many other tasks for the theater.

“I encourage people to look at the Web site. It’s a great program,” Woodzick said.

Gena Kraha, the South Whidbey Commons program director and a former AmeriCorps member on South Whidbey, said she is happy to have both Woodzick and Hein in the program and admires their energy.

Kraha also looks forward to four new AmeriCorps members who will arrive on Whidbey Island in September and, besides current programs, will have the opportunity to work with Good Cheer Food Bank, the city of Langley and a nonprofit called Service, Education and Adventure (SEA).

AmeriCorps is a program that can set young people on a track to new possibilities.

Although Hein said he hasn’t yet figured out what career he would like to pursue, the AmeriCorps program has given him several ideas.

“I know I want to end up doing work in sustainability and community building,” he said.

“This program is great,” Hein added. “It’s all-encompassing and makes you pull from a lot of different pieces of yourself. It has pushed me toward what I want to do with myself.”

Visit the AmeriCorps Web site; Click here and the South Whidbey Commons site; Click here.

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