VINTON — Chris Fletcher may have experienced the peak of living in Iowa on Thursday night when he and some friends visited Vinton’s farmers market.
“It was the last of the year, and we were some of the last people there,” Fletcher said Friday afternoon. “But they were so nice, giving us all kinds of food. I think I ate half a watermelon last night.”
Fletcher, 22, of Peterborough, N.H., and his friends are among 240 members of the first class of FEMACorps, the new partnership between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Civilian Community Corps, the full-time residential arm of the AmeriCorps community service program.
After a month of NCCC training at the agency’s regional center at the former Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, one of five regional NCCC centers, the group was to be formally inducted into FEMACorps Friday night during a ceremony at Vinton-Shellsburg High School. On Sunday, they’ll leave for two weeks of FEMA training in Anniston, Ala., before they’re deployed across the country for rapid response to disaster-struck communities.
“It’s been really fun, living here in the community,” said Jamie Casterton, 26, of Minneapolis. “People have been really welcoming.”
Like their counterparts in NCCC’s AmeriCorps, FEMACorps members are 18 to 24 (team leaders may be older) and enlist for 10 months with an option for a second term. Members will do at least 1,700 hours of service during their term, receiving a stipend for living expenses and educational benefits of $5,500 that may be used for tuition or to pay off college loans.
FEMA estimates FEMACorps will save $60 million in staffing costs once it reaches its full 1,600-member strength. Training covered agency procedures, the use of tools and emergency protective gear and “psychological first aid,” Casterton said: “How to take care of ourselves and how to take care of the people in the community” in the wake of a disaster.
FEMACorps service is “absolutely” more attractive to recent graduates in the sluggish economy, said Gabby Butterfield, 23, of Kalamazoo, Mich., who graduated last year from the University of Michigan.
“I figured this was a great time to have something like this on my resume, and also have a little school money to help out,” said Tavaris Banks, 23, of Macon, Ga.
“My purpose in life is to help people,” said Victoria Robinson, 23, of Long Island City, N.Y. “I also thought it would help with my school loans.”
“It’s a chance to serve my country and give back to a society that has given me a lot,” said Sarah Kramer, 23, of Greenville, S.C. “I also appreciate the opportunity to find myself and figure out what I want to do.”
With the FEMACorps members’ departure, “the campus is going to be a little quiet” until early November, when an AmeriCorps team arrives at the end of its service term, said Krista Eichhorst, regional NCCC spokeswoman.