(Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of stories about the Iowa Braille and Sight-Saving School campus, and the AmeriCorps NCCC North Central Region, which makes its home on the IBSSS campus.)
“We love our community; we love our facility.”
With those words, AmeriCorps NCCC Region Director Rob Levis describes the desire of the NCCC staff members to remain exactly where Vinton residents hope they will stay for a long, long time: The Iowa Braille School campus.
It’s easy to remember when the first NCCC team leaders arrived in Vinton: They came at the same time as the historic flood of June, 2008. One of their first duties was to help the Red Cross set up and man a temporary shelter for flood victims in the IBSSS gym.
Since then, NCCC AmeriCorps and FEMACorps teams have lived in Vinton for several months at a time, traveling throughout the country to help with a variety of projects and disaster recovery efforts.
Almost any place you walk in Vinton, you can see the work of NCCC. Veterans Park, near the River, was among the first projects that an AmeriCorps Team – the first team known as Cedar 5 – helped build. Other teams throughout the years have helped repair the roof of the depot, paint and repair the Ray House, make county parks usable again after flood waters damaged facilities, and much more. An AmeriCorps team built the picnic shelter known as Fischer Pavilion along the river, using the frame of a garage that had been flooded in 2008.
And what Vinton residents can see is just a tiny part of the impact of the North Central Region, which has sent teams on more than 1,000 projects in several states since the first teams arrived in Vinton nine summers ago.
When AmeriCorps members first arrive at the campus, the first building they see is the gym. On the east wall of that building are maps of several states. Those states, from the Dakotas to Kentucky, represent the state institutions for the blind that for decades had sports teams that competed with the students from IBSSS – the Iowa Rams. It’s merely a coincidence, but most of those states are now part of the North Central Region, and students from throughout the U.S. who comprise AmeriCorps teams will travel to those states to help other communities.
The Vinton campus represents one of five NCCC campuses in the U.S.
AmeriCorps NCCC is part of U.S. Government’s Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). According to the CNCS, nearly 1 million people have served as AmeriCorps members since the program began in 1994, serving 1.4 billion hours. Last year, AmeriCorps members served in 21,600 sites.
The impact of NCCC on so many communities, and so many Americans, makes Levis confident that the program will continue. Bill Clinton’s administration created AmeriCorps; George W. Bush’s administration expanded the program. Under President Obama, the program added FEMACorps to specifically help areas that had been declared natural disasters.
Every few years, someone in Washington, D.C. questions whether or not the program should continue. Recently, the New York Times reported that AmeriCorps was among the programs recommended for cuts under a Trump Administration budget proposal. And yet, the program has continued; and grown.
Vinton residents involved in the discussion of the future of the IBSSS campus – and the possibility of the city becoming the owner of the campus – have paid special attention to AmeriCorps issues because the $600,000 the federal government pays for leasing building space is a key factor as leaders decide if the city should indeed take over the campus, and its nearly $1 million annual operating expense.
“There are no guarantees,” said Levis, who adds that there are no guarantees that any entity that a municipality relies on, business or government, will remain in operation.
However, he is confident that AmeriCorps will continue. The funding is in place through 2018, he says, and NCCC officials are working on a five-year lease. Under the current arrangement, NCCC operates on a one-year lease with four one-year extensions.
Those involved in the discussion of the IBSSS campus have spoken to representatives of Vinton’s representatives in D.C., Congressman Rod Blum and Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, all of whom have expressed support for continuing AmeriCorps. Rep. Blum expressed strong support of the program during a visit on Friday, saying that as a small business owner, he would offer an interview to any applicant who put “NCCC” on their resume.
An recently in the VSHS gym gave local residents an opportunity to share their ideas about the future of the IBSSS campus, and what other ways the facilities can be put to use, alongside of the AmeriCorps campus. See more about that HERE.
The AmeriCorps North Central Region campus has seen many changes since 2008. At times there have been two units, at other times, three. The staff then spent much time juggling living space as FEMACorps teams began serving from Vinton. The death of beloved Region Director Dan Milnes following a sudden illness has also impacted the campus.
“We miss Dan every day,” says Levis, who assumed Milnes’ position after his death.
The most recent AmeriCorps induction took place last month, and teams are already serving throughout the region.
See a list of Q & A about NCCC here: img042