The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 8, 2012

AmeriCorps volunteers plant garden on Day of Service

JOPLIN, Mo. — The interior of Susan Irish’s tornado-damaged house is not quite ready for occupants again.

But the landscaping around the house got a much-needed makeover Sunday thanks to a group of young AmeriCorps volunteers.

“It would not have happened without all of these wonderful people, these angels that have come,” Irish said.

About 20 members of the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, a service program for young adults 18 through 24, braved the heat Sunday afternoon to tackle a variety of outdoor projects around Irish’s house, 1824 Grand Ave. Volunteers planted flowers, mowed and trimmed the yard, and cleaned and organized the backyard.

Irish was home with her boxer, Rufus, when the tornado hit on May 22, 2011. They rode it out in the hallway. The tornado ruined the roof and the house’s northern rooms. Irish moved into an empty rental owned by her son, where she has been living since.

Her house, which was built by Irish’s father in the late 1940s and has been owned by the family since, is nearly livable again. Volunteers with Rebuild Joplin, a local organization focused on getting housing to tornado-impacted residents, have repaired the interior and the roof. A few “cosmetic things” are all that remain to be done, Irish said.

“Everyone has done an absolutely beautiful job, and they just have such good hearts,” she said. “I’ve never really been a volunteer — shame on me — but everybody’s so wonderful. I’m just so grateful. It’s just above and beyond what I ever expected.”

Helen Kyriakoudes, 18, of Bay St. Louis, Miss., has been in Joplin about two months with the rest of the AmeriCorps group. Working with AmeriCorps through Rebuild Joplin, she has helped repair a number of houses, including sanding and painting at Irish’s.

Having already completed projects in Denver, Oklahoma City and Freeport, Texas, Kyriakoudes said volunteering in Joplin has perhaps resonated the most with her because her hometown is less than an hour’s drive from hurricane-impacted New Orleans.

“There were tons of AmeriCorps people in my town,” she said. “Everyone was helping everyone, and it’s kind of like paying it forward.”

It has been a life-changing experience overall, said Kyriakoudes, who graduated from high school last year.

“I’ve just become way more independent; I learned so much about construction,” she said. “And just meeting the people I’ve met has really changed how I look at life.”

Sabrina Martin, a 19-year-old AmeriCorps volunteer from Olympia, Wash., said that for her, there has been a significant “personal component” to working in Joplin because she has been able to work directly with residents and other volunteers.

“Joplin has brought me so much hope about what a community can go through and come back together,” she said. “It’s an inspiration to keep doing good work.”

By the numbers

About 1,200 young adults nationwide serve in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps each year, completing a series of 6- to 8-week projects during their 10-month term.

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