Hibo, age 23.
Host site: Rainier Beach Action Coalition in Seattle, WA
I grew up in Rainier Beach and have lived here since the 3rd grade. Many people in the community think this is a bad neighborhood, but I want them to understand that the people aren’t bad. It’s not the community’s fault. I want Rainier Beach to be a safe place for youth, which is why I was interested in the AmeriCorps position at the Rainier Beach Action Coalition (RBAC). My friend, who works at RBAC as an outreach programmer, told me about it and hooked me up with the person in charge there.
At RBAC, I’m one of the community outreach members. Though COVID has made it more challenging to connect directly with the community, we’re being creative and making it work. Beach Five is one of our virtual programs, where we teach youth in the community about the healthy meals they can make with the food they have at home and educating them on developing good eating habits. Growing up, most of the cultural food I ate was oily, and I didn’t care about eating healthy foods. I don’t blame my parents; they just weren’t educated on vegetables. Now I want to help my younger brothers to eat healthier.
For our Food Justice program, we’re in the early stages of discussing partnerships with corner stores and barbershops to bring organic food directly to the community. In the summer, we’ll open up the Farm Stand, a pop-up organic grocery store. Our goal is to provide nutritious and affordable food to people in need.
Right now, I’m balancing this position with attending school full-time at Seattle Central to earn my AA in social work. I have a personal connection to this work—about three years ago, I went to my hometown in Kenya and saw children without parents suffering, which sparked my passion for working with foster youth and children with disabilities. My long-term goal is to open up a youth facility in my hometown.
During my time with the COVID Response Corps, I hope to have an impact on youth health outcomes in my community. I love my neighborhood and look forward to giving back to the place I call home.
Efrain, age 22.
Host site: Common Threads Farm in Bellingham, WA
“Going into college as an 18-year-old, I was a pretty big procrastinator and not super great with technology. I wouldn’t blame that as the sole reason why I didn’t finish school, but it played into it. My GPA was really low, and I stopped school. The next year, I started at Whatcom Community College. I was in school to go into human services. But at the time, I didn’t know what that meant, and the goal wasn’t crystal clear. That was probably the reason why school went on the back burner. At Whatcom, my goal was to get my AA and to have that higher education.
Before Christmas break, I had a pretty bad concussion, so going back to class was hard. It made my head buzz. I couldn’t get my head back in the game. I dropped out of school. After that, I was babysitting for a bit, odd jobs, to pay rent. A friend of mine worked at a restaurant, and he recommended me for a job there. After a year, I moved up to the line. I also worked at a ramen shop in town. I wanted to expand my cooking portfolio. Then COVID happened. After the lockdown ended, I didn’t want to work there forever. So, I quit without a plan.
My brother, who works for the school district, told me about the WA COVID Response Corps. I had been talking to him about how working in a restaurant wasn’t fulfilling. It was physically and mentally exhausting. I knew I needed to get out. I was floating for a little bit. I just didn’t know what my next moves were going to be. I’ve always wanted to be an immigration attorney, so I was looking into base blocks to build upon. When my brother told me about the Response Corps and Common Threads, I looked into it and was interested. The aspect of teaching the community drew me in. To be able to work and learn and help people in need in my community – seemed like a really amazing deal.
Everyone at Common Threads made it as easy as possible to onboard. I feel prepared going through the training and knowing the things I needed to accomplish. Although I find myself a little nervous, I tell myself that being nervous is good because it means I’m at a level where I want to learn. And I want to do better than where I’m at.”
Mercedes, age 20.
Host site: Three Rivers Christian School in Longview, WA
“We’ve only been in Longview for about six months. When we first moved here, I was nine months pregnant. After my maternity leave with my son, I started working at the chicken factory. We’re originally from the Tri-Cities area but moved to Long Beach for better job opportunities for my daughter. I have two kids: my three-year-old, Olivia, and my 4-month old son, Oliver. Oliver just had neurosurgery because his skull bones had formed too early. He’s one-week post-op today. Babies are so resilient. A couple of hours after surgery, he was smiling.
We lived in Long Beach for about three years. We had a 1.5 bedroom that was perfect for our little family, but we couldn’t all fit once my son was born. And rentals in Long Beach are one in a million. Everyone just buys a house there and comes once a month for a vacation home, making rentals impossible. We had to move to Longview so that we had more room for my son.
When I lived in Long Beach, I was a home care aid. The person that I cared for got COVID and passed away. That was when COVID was getting bad, back in March. I was on a personal contract, and that was around the time I was pregnant. Right now, my health care career is on pause. It’s not something I want to risk because I was working with the elderly population and I’m out in the hospital a lot for my son’s appointments.
I had a job here at the chicken factory. But I couldn’t work there anymore. It was the same thing over and over and over again. I wanted fulfillment at the end of the day. I wanted to feel like I was giving back to my community and doing something that was making an impact. Something that will be here once I’m gone. I was so tired of working the 9 to 5 and having nothing to show for it. At the end of the day, when I went home, my daughter would ask me what I did today. It was always the same thing. I moved chicken from point A to point B, over and over. And I stood in the same spot. I was just a number in a line. Versus now, I’m a coordinator of a whole agriculture program. I take care of bees; I’m a beekeeper; I’m a farmer; I tend to goats. I have so many different titles now and it’s all thanks to the COVID Response Corps and AmeriCorps. I’m very thankful. It got my family and me out of a big rut. Anyone can put two pieces of chicken on a thing and send it down the line. I would rather be feeding the chickens like I do now. Now I look forward to going to work in the morning.
This program is important because it will give back to our community for years and years to come. It’s amazing that the COVID Response Corps has implemented this to actively help. We have seen food scarcity, especially at Lower Columbia CAP; there have been more people coming in and getting food baskets. A lot of people are out of their jobs because they’re just scared. They’re scared to bring it home to their families. We have a lot of people in Cowlitz County, just going on unemployment. That’s affecting how everything functions here. All the stores are closing down. When you start closing stuff down like that, it starts getting into people’s heads just how real it is. Job security is a big issue in Cowlitz County. We have areas that people are really struggling.
In the spring, we’ll have tons of food to give back to the community. It’s just an awesome way to give back. Everybody is always so worried about themselves sometimes that it’s important for people to look at the bigger picture to see what’s really needed. At Three Rivers Christian School, we’re doing the permaculture thing. We’re doing a lot of prep work right now because we’re doing a no-dig garden, so we’re not digging into the ground. We lay out newspaper and cardboard over the whole area to kill all the leaves. And then we’re putting wood chips and mulch on top of it. Over the winter, it will feed the soil. Then during the spring, we’ll punch through that mulch and cardboard and then plant in that. That big garden we’re establishing will give food back to the community for tons of years to come. It’s super awesome.
I’m hoping to do another term with AmeriCorps and want to use the Segal education award, which is $6,000 per term, and use it to go to nursing school and further my career. This program is awesome and sets us up for our future. It was something I was struggling with, the schooling aspect, so hopefully, after all of this is over, I’m able to further my career. I’m still young. I still have plenty of time to get my schooling in. Hopefully, I can get my CNA, my RN, and then work in the hospital like I want to and help people. At the end of the day, I want to do something bigger than myself.
I think that this is the best decision that I have personally made. It sounds a bit intimidating when you first go into it all, and there is a lot to learn. But once you go through orientation and get set up with your host site, they’re super responsive. It’s great people who are meeting other great people. It’s a way to give back to your community. I love it. I’m super excited.”