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AmeriCorps Whidbey: Learning to serve and serving to learn

Robbie Eberhart-Garah, Katie Woodzick, Micah Sewell and Nate Mullendore in front of South Whidbey High School. The four are this year’s AmeriCorps  representatives on South Whidbey. - Jeff VanDerford / The Record
Robbie Eberhart-Garah, Katie Woodzick, Micah Sewell and Nate Mullendore in front of South Whidbey High School. The four are this year’s AmeriCorps representatives on South Whidbey.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford / The Record

About AmeriCorps

Each year, AmeriCorps offers 75,000 opportunities for adults of all ages and backgrounds to serve through a network of partnerships with local and national nonprofit groups.

AmeriCorps members tutor and mentor disadvantaged youth, fight illiteracy, improve health services, build affordable housing, teach

computer skills, clean parks and streams, manage or operate after-school programs, help communities respond to disasters and build

organizational capacity.

In 1993, Pres. Bill Clinton signed the National and Community Service Trust Act, which formally launched AmeriCorps.

To learn more, visit

www.americorps.org.

LANGLEY — They are no longer strangers in a strange land.

The three young men and one woman who make up the AmeriCorps contingent on South Whidbey have been here since September, more than halfway through their 10-month commitment to the program.

Katie Woodzick is from Wisconsin, Micah Sewell hails from Michigan, Robbie Eberhart-Garah’s home is in Oregon and Nate Mullendore grew up in Indiana.

All but one are 22 — Eberhart-Garah is the youngster of the bunch at 19.

All but Eberhart-Garah are college grads who were faced with several options after leaving school.

“Doing this isn’t about the money,” Sewell said. “This is a chance to do things I’ve always wanted to do, like working on the middle school’s garden project and the radio station in Coupeville.”

Woodzick described AmeriCorps as a sort of domestic Peace Corps.

“We have to put in at least 1,700 hours over 10 months, get paid a monthly stipend and will earn a $4,700 award we can apply for further education,” she explained.

The four hope to learn things here and pay them forward.

“We’re studying how communities operate and we plan to take that knowledge with us elsewhere,” Mullendore said.

As part of his service, he’s been involved with several Bayview School student projects.

“Those kids need help and can benefit from my presence,” he added.

Woodzick graduated from Luther College with a degree in theater and dance. Her community action project found her directing the Vagina Monologues at the Whidbey Children’s Theater in Langley. She also worked on an intergenerational art show at Island Coffee House. “The youngest artist was 15, the oldest, 75,” she said.

Meanwhile, architectural student Eberhart-Garah is helping to retrofit the coffee house to be more energy efficient.

“We can drop energy usage by up to $1,500 per year,” he explained. “I’ve been working with a local architect on a structural design that will achieve that goal.”

Sewell’s time is split between the South End and Coupeville.

“I’m working on a Washington State University 4-H extension project with Judy Felton — my interest is in food service and environmental studies, though

I got my degree in English.”

He’s helping Felton stage classes in growing food and using local produce.

“It’s the best way to get the word out to the public,” he said. Sewell is also working with teachers at the middle school garden project on a community management initiative.

AmeriCorps organizer Suzie Richards noted that for South Whidbey to qualify for the program, she must show that the community can make their service meaningful.

The four live in a small home in

Clinton while Richards works to find them a better place. And they visit the mainland when they get the chance.

“I have a friend in Seattle and I go hang with him on the weekend,” Mullendore said.

He and the others attend a lot of conferences, work the farm tour and beachwatcher events.

“Doing the stuff we’re interested in,” Sewell said. “Each day we learn a bit more and each day we give a bit more. That’s why we’re here.”

In some ways, it’s been an eye-opening experience. One thing they’ve noticed is the lack of people in their age range living on South Whidbey. All four agree that the only significant downside is the normal love/hate relationships one finds in a small community.

“You run into people at the store all the time, folks you know, and that can be both good and bad,” Sewell said.

On the other hand, Eberhart-Garah said the area strikes him as being stagnant.

“No one wants anything to change. The concept of ‘turning things around’ doesn’t exist,” he said.

But those gripes are small potatoes compared to the pluses they’ve discovered.

“The arts community here is outstanding,” Woodzick said. “To have so many artists, singers and dancers is incredible.”

Mullendore has been amazed at the natural beauty he’s found everywhere he goes.

“Oh, it’s a lot different from my home in Indiana,” he said. “I get a kick out of people complaining about the weather when there’s 10 inches of snow on the ground back home.”

“But I’ve noticed lots of people doing great things and there’s certainly many kind folks who live here,” he said. “They are very lucky and all of us feel privileged to be here.”

For information on the AmeriCorps program, call Richards at 221-6198,

ext. 3202.

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