Royalton graduate works on variety of projects, receives education award
by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Not being sure of what she wanted to do after her graduation from Royalton High School in 2012, Hope Cimenski remembered hearing about her cousin’s experiences with AmeriCorps.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity to see what is out there and to meet new people,” Cimenski said.
In March 2012, she found the AmeriCorps website and filled out an application. Shortly after that, she was interviewed over the phone.
“Most of the questions were about how willing I was to go outside my comfort zone in certain situations, like travelling to different areas with two days’ notice,” Cimenski said.
She was sent more paperwork to fill out. Then she waited.
It wasn’t until September 2012, one month before she was to leave, that she received an email saying that she had been accepted to the AmeriCorps National Civilian Conservation Corps (NCCC).
AmeriCorps NCCC is a full-time, team-based residential program for men and women ages 18-24. Members are assigned to one of five campuses — Denver, Colo.; Sacramento, Calif.; Perry Point, Md.; Vicksburg, Miss.; and Vinton, Iowa.
The program is based on the CCC of the 1930s and the U.S. military. It’s built on the belief that civic responsibility is the duty of all citizens and that national service programs work very well with local communities to meet urgent needs.
Cimenski was provided with a plane ticket and left for Sacramento Oct. 10, 2012. She and about 320 other members stayed in dorms at a former military base during a month of training.
“Trainings were from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., four days a week, with one hour of physical training,” she said.
The group was divided into four different units, with a number of teams in each unit.
“My team got really close really fast — like a family. We were all there for the same purpose, and we instantly had a bond because of that,” Cimenski said.
There were lounges on campus where movie nights and game nights were held. On weekends, Cimenski enjoyed visiting downtown Old Sacramento and going to outdoor concerts.
Once training was complete, the teams were sent to different projects somewhere in the Sacramento district.
“Every project is different,” Cimenski said.
For five and a half weeks, her team worked with the Salvation Army on toy drives and coat drives, cleaned a soup kitchen and worked at the Salvation Army’s local office.
“We were able to go home for 10 days over Christmas,” she said.
After the holiday break, all teams returned to the campus for transition training to prepare for specialty roles in the projects that followed.
Cimenski’s next projects were a 14-hour drive south of Sacramento, near San Diego. The team camped and worked in Lakeside, Calif. During the next two and a half months, the members first worked at Blue Sky Ranch worm farm and orchard, then Lakeside River Park Conservancy, doing cleanups, destroying invasive species and planting native plants. The third project at that location was building hiking trails for Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary.
The team then travelled to McCall, Idaho, two hours from Boise. For two months, they stayed in the nurse’s lodge at a Girl Scout camp while working to prepare the camp for the season.
“We insulated cabins and put up sheetrock, took down dangerous trees and cut them up for firewood, painted all the buildings, removed old outhouses and repaired all the camp’s bicycles,” Cimenski said.
The next project took the team to Preston, Wash. for six weeks. Members stayed at a campground lodge while removing invasive plants, maintaining a mountain biking trail and building new trail.
“Bikers coming through Preston told us what the trail meant to them,” said Cimenski. “It was nice to know that what we were doing was important to them.”
After all that, it was back to Sacramento for the last two weeks. A formal graduation ceremony was held before team members returned home.
Cimenski found it hard to pick a favorite project or location.
“They all had something that made me really glad to be there,” she said. “But after working at the Girl Scout camp in Idaho, we went to a Girl Scout convention and got to meet some of the scouts who would benefit from what we did.”
The coolest place Cimenski visited was the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle.
“It’s a giant market known for ‘flying fish’ as the people working there throw the fish back and forth,” she said. “Bellevue Garden in San Diego was fun too, with sidewalk magic and belly dancers.”
Cimenski was given a living allowance of about $75 per week.
“The people we worked for provided the housing,” she said. “Teams were given an allowance for food, and we made our own. Every night, two different people would cook for our team of about 11-12 people.”
Cimenski made good friends while working hard and travelling.
“We still text each other every day,” she said. “Members from other teams live in Minneapolis, and I am still in contact with them too.”
Following graduation, Cimenski received an education award of $5,500.
“It could go toward student loans, future tuition and books,” she said. “That’s going to be very helpful.”
Cimenski has now started taking general classes at St. Cloud Technical College, with plans to transfer to St. Cloud State University to complete a degree in early childhood education.
Cimenski would like to encourage other people to be part of AmeriCorps.
“If you show a commitment to the program, chances are you could be chosen,” she said. “But it can be competitive. I was on the waiting list two weeks before being chosen. One team member was notified the day the program started; if she accepted, she had six hours to pack and get on a plane at 8 a.m.”
Although it was a challenging experience for Cimenski, it’s one she values.
“Adapting to being away from home was a challenge, and camping was a really big challenge for me. We spent two and a half months in a tent in San Diego in winter, where it’s very rainy,” she said. “But I was getting used to trail building.
“It’s so hard to put it all into words; everyone’s experience, their story, is different,” Cimenski said. “It was a great opportunity and I wouldn’t change a second of it.”