Volunteering for AmeriCorps is 'great gig' for Geneva woman

Geneva retiree is in middle of six-month stint volunteering for AmeriCorps

  • Deborah Vensel of Geneva is a couple of months into a six-month stint volunteering for AmeriCorps in West Virginia. "I thought working for AmeriCorps was just for young kids, but when I looked at the application it noted it was open for adults from 18 to 99 … and I fall in that range," the 65-year-old Vensel said.

    Deborah Vensel of Geneva is a couple of months into a six-month stint volunteering for AmeriCorps in West Virginia. "I thought working for AmeriCorps was just for young kids, but when I looked at the application it noted it was open for adults from 18 to 99 … and I fall in that range," the 65-year-old Vensel said. COURTESY OF DEBorah VENSEL

 
 
Posted4/19/2018 9:26 AM

It may not be the greatest idea for a woman to sign up for an out-of-state service tour of duty without telling her husband first, but it worked out OK for Deborah Vensel of Geneva.

She is a couple of months into her six-month service stint for AmeriCorps, working in West Virginia. She liked that choice, considering she grew up in that state.

 

"I just sort of bumbled my way into this, seeing something online about a program in the Appalachians and feeling so passionate about West Virginia," Vensel said. "I picked my husband up at the airport one day and just said, 'You won't believe what I just did.'"

What she did was sign on to work for an organization seeking to expand experiences for young Appalachian women by offering summer camps for middle school and high school students.

It's all part of an AmeriCorps program called Local Foods and Grow Appalachia, operated out of the High Rocks Educational Organization.

"I thought working for AmeriCorps was just for young kids, but when I looked at the application it noted it was open for adults from 18 to 99 … and I fall in that range," the 65-year-old Vensel said.

She has found the work to be "a fantastic gig" for an older person.

"The monthly stipend is not hardly enough to live on, but retired people might be able to manage it better than younger people because of pensions, Social Security and savings," she added.

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That aspect is beside the point for Vensel, who wanted to help people in West Virginia, where she lived until she came to graduate school in Illinois.

She never left Illinois, working for more than 30 years as a school psychologist for various districts in suburban Chicago, and recently retiring from Kaneland School District 302.

However, her family purchased a cabin eight years ago in the southeast part of e West Virginia, and she is staying there during her nearby AmeriCorps stint.

Though the weather has been colder and snowier than she had expected for March, Vensel is excited about helping build a high-tunnel, plastic-covered garden and plant the "crops" that will be responsible for feeding camp attendees in June and July.

"We are currently going through the proposed summer menus and formulating how much of different vegetables will be needed," Vensel said. "For example, we will need over 2,000 carrots."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A primary purpose of the camps is to introduce campers to healthy foods, she added. Ultimately, she wants to speak to schools and community centers in the area to get a better understanding of what it might take to build more access to, and use of, fresh foods.

Vensel feels this type of service could easily appeal to others.

"I'll bet there are a lot of other people out there who would enjoy doing something like this on a short-term basis," she said.

Something that could catch attention of people looking for a service task without a major commitment is that AmeriCorps offers some programs that last only a few months.

Hydrants as canvas:

It takes a creative mind to look at a standard red fire hydrant and envision it becoming something much different.

Geneva is again looking for those types of minds in what has become an annual rite of spring for the city -- the "Art on Fire" program.

It's a free program open to everyone, but participants have to apply to the city by Friday, May 11. Applications are available at geneva.il.us.

It's also a contest, as arts advisory and cultural arts commission members will judge the painted hydrants and award prizes to the top three designers this summer.

Participants will be painting their hydrants in May and June.

More than 80 hydrants have been painted in the five years of the program. We've seen many different topics addressed through images on hydrants, from flowers to pumpkins, and Santa Claus to surf boards and palm trees.

It was surprising to see this stat from the city: There are more than 1,800 hydrants throughout Geneva. In other words, there are plenty to pick from over the next several years.

Busy building site:

Construction of new subdivisions may not be as prolific in this area as in the early 1990s, but certain spots remain a hotbed of activity.

You can't help but notice the construction unfolding on the west side of St. Charles, north of Main Street and east of Peck Road, at a site called Anthem Heights.

Cal Atlantic Homes is putting up these homes behind Corporate Reserve, which has a fair amount of construction in progress as well.

It may be located in a busy area of town, but it has an Aldi and the post office nearby, plus a nice view of LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve off in the distance.

New chapter for library:

Now that the tax support for a new library has passed and the city has approved of the Geneva Library's plans for its new site bordering Sixth and Seventh streets, it's just a matter of waiting for the groundbreaking and start of construction.

Expect to see that unfolding soon. The library is targeting the middle of 2019 for the new site to be open to the public. Workers will need better weather than what we've seen through most of April, but it seems safe to think residents will have this great addition to the community in that time frame.

dheun@sbcglobal.net

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