The AmeriCorps NCCC River 7 Team & Community Outreach

Team pic
AmeriCorps NCCC River 7 Team with Southwest Memphis homeowner.

Today starts our final week of eight with the AmeriCorps NCCC River 7 Team at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  River 7 is the third AmeriCorps NCCC Team our Museum has hosted since 2012.  The three teams have operated in a unique partnership with the C.H. Nash Museum, the Westwood Neighborhood Association, and the T.O. Fuller State Park.  The Team worked in the Westwood neighborhood with elderly homeowners to help with landscaping and structural repairs.  At T.O. Fuller State Park the Team planted over 1000 trees and installed signage along the six miles of trail.  At the C.H. Nash Museum, the Team helped reconfigure the museum’s library and repository and completed the refurbishment of a residential facility that will house future community service teams.  The AmeriCorps NCCC River 7 Team also worked with employees from the newly constructed Electrolux plant who volunteered and provided economic support for the home repair projects in Westwood.  Click here for additional information about the River 7 Team.

The AmeriCorps NCCC exemplifies the very positive role that millennials play in our country today.  AmeriCorps partnerships with museums allow cultural institutions to live into one of their defining principles set forth by the International Council of Museums as “. . . institutions in the service of society and of its development.”

As the AmeriCorps NCCC River 7 Team gets ready to leave Memphis and head for their next eight-week round in West Virginia, I asked the nine Team Members and their Team Leader to explain why they joined AmeriCorps NCCC.  Here are their responses.

William Custus (left) and Corbin Beastrom (right)

My name is William Custus. I am 22 yrs old. I’m originally from Baltimore Maryland but I now live in Washington DC. I joined AmeriCorps NCCC on February 11th 2013. The reason I joined AmeriCorps is because I believe in making a difference in people’s lives, and shaping communities to become safer, smarter, and healthier.

Corbin Beastrom is a former college student from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. After three years in academia, he dropped out of a world defined by in-class essays, titular student government, and DC internships to embark on what he refers to as, “his first sabbatical.” Following graduation from AmeriCorps NCCC Corbin plans to lead a nomadic lifestyle comprised of graduate school, organic farming, and coffee.

Kaneesha and KT
Kaneesha Frazier (left) and KT Ainsworth (right) get their first taste of crawfish at St. John’s Episcopal church in Memphis.

My name is KT Ainsworth and I am 18 years old and from Bend, Oregon. During my junior year of high school, my dad received a heart and kidney transplant. The community took time out of their busy lives to help my family and make sure my siblings and I were cared for. Seeing just how much a community of people were able to positively affect a family’s life made me want to carry the kindness forward. That is why I joined AmeriCorps NCCC. Seeing the difference my team makes every single day is what pushes me to keep going. I love what I do and who I do it for.

My name is Kaneesha Frazier and I am from Columbus, Ohio.  I joined AmeriCorps NCCC to help strengthen communities. I heard about AmeriCorps NCCC from my school Youth Build in Columbus and I plan to continue my college education in criminal justice upon completion of the NCCC program.

Bobbie Jean Keller (left) and Raymond Smith (right)

My name is Bobbie Keller, I am 19 years old and before AmeriCorps NCCC I lived in Long Beach, Mississippi. I was affected by hurricane Katrina in 2005 and ever since then I have had a desire to pay it forward. AmeriCorps NCCC is the perfect program for me, I get to travel and volunteer.

Hello my name is Raymond Smith. I am 19 years old and from Chicago Illinois. I joined AmeriCorps NCCC in February 2013. I joined because I heard that there was a program that helps communities in need and respond to disasters. I have a passion for helping others and to see that it makes me happy. I also joined to help change and decrease the crime rate by getting out into the communities setting an example for others so our world could become a better place.

John Cipollo (left) and James Burks (right)

My name is John Cipollo. I am 23 years old and I am from Bristol, Connecticut. I joined AmeriCorps NCCC because I wanted to give back to the community.

I am James Burks.  Well my reason for attending AmeriCorps NCCC was to help others and at the same time better myself. I also was interested in the traveling to see and visit different places. I was born in Chicago, Illinois but moved to Park Forest, Illinois. I have other sisters and a brother, but I am the youngest of them all. I wanted to venture off and see what I can do with my life. I like all kinds of sports.  I am 20 years old and I like to chill and have fun. I want to make a difference in our community and I plan to try my best to do that.

John Hamburger (left) and Robert Gurley, President of the Westwood Neighborhood Association with Ana Rea, Team Leader for River 7 (right)

My full name is John Dale Hamburger III, and I am originally from Grand Island, Nebraska but for the past two years I have lived in Chadron, Nebraska going to Pine Ridge Job Corps. The reason I have come to AmeriCorps NCCC is due to the opportunity I have been presented to help others like when I was in Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at Grand Island Senior High school. I feel great helping others and when something like AmeriCorps NCCC presented itself to me, I just couldn’t give it up so easily. Also cause I have always wanted to travel to other places and get to know others. Plus I can’t lie – I also did it for the College opportunity and I wanted to make a difference in my family by being the first person out of both sides of my family to finish a four-year college.

My name is Ana Rea and I was raised and had lived in Greenville, TX since the age of 9 and had never left my small town until I joined AmeriCorps NCCC. After attending Texas A&M-Commerce for a year I decided to take a break and really discover what it was that I wanted to do with my future.  I am currently serving in my second year of AmeriCorps NCCC Southern Region as a  Team Leader for River 7 and so far, I have been privileged enough to serve in the states of Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. I plan on continuing the path of service to others with an open mind and learning something new every day.

You can contact the AmeriCorps NCCC River 7 Team at –

Exploring Alternative Volunteer Opportunities

Participants in the Emerging Leadership’s Service on Saturday volunteer program at the University of Memphis

I have thought a good bit about volunteering lately, in part because of the evolution in how this process works at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  I posted before about our Museum’s irregular staff that includes a range of volunteers, student interns, and community service participants.  In the past year we saw a stagnation in our traditional once-a-month type volunteer program but a radical growth in the other components of our “irregular staff” category.  For example, our traditional Volunteer Saturdays now have a more modest attendance than two years ago.  At the same time, in 2012 the real hours contributed at Chucalissa by the total of these irregular staff continued to increase (@8500) and exceeded that of the regular staff (@8000).

The entry for volunteering at Wikipedia provides some insights on the shift we are seeing.  The entry notes that volunteering:

is generally considered an altruistic activity and is intended to promote good or improve human quality of life. In return, this activity produces a feeling of self-worth and respect; however, there is no financial gain. Volunteering is also renowned for skill development, socialization, and fun. It is also intended to make contacts for possible employment. Many volunteers are specifically trained in the areas they work . . .

What I like about this entry is that the very essence of the action is focused on the volunteer and not the agency.  That is, in the case of museums the institution is meeting the need and providing a service for the volunteer.  Intuitively, that understanding seems to flip the traditional concept of volunteers as those providing the service.  However, the institution being the provider in the service relationship is the essence of the Participatory Museum.  This understanding is stated in the opening paragraph in a recent article on volunteers:

To begin, we start with a question: If there were an opportunity for an unlimited number of paid staff at museums would we still recruit volunteers to assist in collections work? In this paper we answer that question with a resounding yes. In fact, we suggest that with increased paid staff, the quantity of volunteers should increase as well. We base this assessment in recognizing the shift of museums from being collections driven to centering on the visitor experience (Anderson 2004:2-5), an educational approach that is constructivist (Hein 2006:347-349) and that acknowledges the role of free-choice learning (Falk and Dierking 2002).  (R.P. Connolly & N.B. Tate, 2011,Volunteers and Collections as Viewed from the Museum Mission Statement. Collections, 7(3), p. 325-346)

The flipping of roles makes the museum responsible for addressing the public needs whose cultural heritage the museum presents and preserves.  In this capacity, it becomes incumbant upon the museum to provide opportunities for volunteering that align with how the public organize their volunteering capacity.

Besides the traditional, consider a few of  the other types of volunteers we now serve at the C.H. Nash Museum:

  • Avocational Organizations – I previously posted about the work of Memphis Archaeological and Geological Society.  Also, for nearly ten years the Southwind Garden Club has planted seasonal floral arrangements at the museum.  In a two-year effort, the Club created an arboretum at the site with plans for expansion in the coming months.  Over a similar period, the Friends of Chucalissa provided integral support in coordinating special events and fundraising for the Museum.  Particularly as the public pursuit of informal lifelong learning continues to grow, avocational and social groups will expand their outreach for volunteering opportunities.
  • Scout Youth Groups – Through both regular volunteer service activities and program requirements, Boy and Girl Scout groups have built, painted, or maintained a variety of facilities, both large and small at our Museum.  We maintain a regular list of possible projects for these groups to choose from.  As youth discretionary time becomes more structured with a host of competing activities, we might expect that youth groups will continue as a primary outlet to experience volunteering in the formative years.
  • Community Service Learning –  Through programs such as the University of Memphis Emerging Leaders, area high schools, alternative spring breaks, students at all levels take part in curriculum-based volunteer activities that last for anywhere from 2 hours to several days in length.  This type of volunteering proved instrumental in creating our medicinal plant sanctuary, landscaping at the Museum, exhibit creation, and in community outreach/cleanup projects.  Community service/learning continues to increase both informally and through formal educational curriculum with no evidence of reaching a plateau anytime soon.

The above examples can be less predictable than recruiting the traditional volunteer docent who will show up like clockwork every other Tuesday and Saturday.  However, in the same way that to remain relevant to the public that we serve, museums are shifting more to family programs in response to the reduction in the school “field trip” experience, we must also provide new and creative volunteer opportunities that are relevant to the public needs.

Without a doubt, the most exciting conferences I have attended for the past two years are the Volunteer Tennessee Annual Meetings that explores many of these possibilities.  I will post about one of my favorites, the The Corporation for National and Community Service, separately.

What innovations have you incorporated into your volunteer programs?