AmeriCorps volunteers ended their 10-month service stint this past week, with eight young adults from all over the country set to return home from the Last Frontier. Emily Matthews and Andy Kowalczyk, both originally from the east coast and just recently having completed college, spoke about the significance of their time in Alaska.
“We’ve been here since the end of October, so it was the first winter storm when we got here,” Matthrws said.
She said they worked mostly indoors for the cold months of the year, serving Trailside Discovery Camp and the Food Bank of Alaska in Anchorage. From there, the volunteers connected with the Girl Scouts of Alaska, and then finally arrived in Homer late this June to begin working with Homer’s Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies.
The AmeriCorps volunteers have helped out at all of Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies’ locations, from Peterson Bay to the Inspiration Ridge Preserve and the Carl E. Wynn Nature Center.
Speaking on the significance of their efforts, Kowalczyk said, “We get to spend enough time in places like Homer where we get to meet people who are grateful, like for the work.” Matthews added, “being able to work together in a team and then like, see that impact or even see it come full circle.”
For both of these volunteers, the 10-month commitment pushed them outside of comfort zones, asking them to quickly adapt to living and working with seven strangers while having just entered into the darkness of an Alaskan winter.
“So along with the darkness we were trying to navigate like our whole like team dynamics,” Matthews, from Orlando, Florida, said.
However, teamwork developed throughout the 10 months, exemplified by the AmeriCorps volunteers’ most recent tasks of building garden beds at Peterson Bay Field Station and removing the invasive orange hawkweed plant from Inspiration Ridge Preserve.
“It’s good to be doing work that matters,” Kowalcyzyk said.
Both Matthews and Kowalcyzyk said they would recommend the AmeriCorps program in Alaska to anyone their age.
“You don’t really get the opportunity to spend 10 months in Alaska otherwise,” Kowalcyzyk, who is from Buffalo, New York, said.
With all the challenges, growth spurts, and new-found friends, both of the volunteers said they would come back to Alaska in the future. “I think I’ll definitely come back to Alaska… I like the simplicity of it and less people,” said Matthews.
Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies Executive Director, Beth Trowbridge, lauded the efforts of the volunteers.
“They accomplished many tasks and projects that we could have never done without their help and also provided mentorship to some of the teen service groups that visited the Peterson Bay Field Station and the Wynn Nature Center. They were such a hard-working, cheerful and energetic team of exceptional young men and women, and we are so thankful for all they did for us,” she wrote via email.