Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Tabb, Warhill Graduates Give Back through AmeriCorps

Ryan Lepsch of Yorktown is currently volunteering with AmeriCorps at a Boy Scout camp in California. (Submitted)
Ryan Lepsch of Yorktown is currently volunteering with AmeriCorps at a Boy Scout camp in California. (Submitted)

Two former Historic Triangle residents are currently serving in AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps, where they are applying a passion for service they discovered growing up in Williamsburg and Yorktown.

AmeriCorps NCCC is a residential national service program in which first-time members ages 18 to 24 years old complete a 10-month service program. In those 10 months, they are assigned a home base campus and assigned numerous projects in that region.

Ryan Lepsch and Alice McVicker, who graduated from Tabb High School and Warhill High School, respectively, are currently working with AmeriCorps for separate missions in two different locations.

Ryan Lepsch

Ryan Lepsch, who moved to Yorktown as a young child and graduated from Tabb High School in 2008, is currently serving as a team leader for NCCC based out of the organization’s Sacramento campus.

Lepsch first learned about AmeriCorps while researching a paper he was writing on national service for a literature class in high school. Though he joined the Marines upon graduation, he was discharged after only two years due to a medical issue, leaving him to reflect on what he could do next to serve his country.

“Joining the military instilled an attitude of wanting to be involved in public service in me,” Lepsch said.

While attending Thomas Nelson Community College to obtain his associate of fire science technology from 2010 to 2013, Lepsch continued to think about how he could give back. While he felt a strong connection to the Historic Triangle, he was interested in finding a way to serve a broader range of communities.

That desire inspired him to look into AmeriCorps once again, and he officially joined NCCC in 2014. He completed his initial 10-month service contract with FEMA Corps, a 1,600-person subset of the larger organization that deals exclusively with disaster relief.

As part of FEMA Corps, Lepsch saw firsthand the chaos wrought by both natural and political disasters. He spent time in New York working on recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy as well as in Arizona addressing an ongoing immigration crisis in that region over the course of his contract.

“[FEMA Corps] is one of the best opportunities available for young people to serve our country,” Lepsch said.

Inspired by his first experience, Lepsch, now 26, decided to sign on again this past September. He returned to NCCC as a team leader, taking on the oversight of nine regular team members as they travel from assignment to assignment.

Currently, Lepsch and his team are stationed at a Boy Scout camp outside of Fairfax, California – a small town about 40 minutes north of San Francisco.

Lepsch’s fire science degree has come in handy on this assignment, as he has been tasked with helping the camp address concerns about the ongoing drought that the region is facing.

“This area’s been hit hard by the drought, and it creates really unsafe conditions in forested areas,” Lepsch said. “It’s starting to take a real toll on the ecosystem.”

Camp Tamarancho, which is situated on almost 500 acres of land, applied to AmeriCorps for help in maintaining the grounds in the face of these usual weather conditions. Lepsch’s team arrived on site last month and began working on clearing brush, which poses a wildfire risk, and felling trees that have died and become loose in the ground due to lack of water.

Lepsch’s day is split between the manual labor of working on the campgrounds, which he completes side-by-side with his team members, and taking care of administrative tasks that fall under his purview as the team leader. These responsibilities include serving as a liaison between the team, NCCC and the Boy Scouts personnel at the camp site.

This is the first of four assignments that Lepsch and his team will complete as part of their contract, with brief training and debriefing stints between traveling to each new location taking place at the home base in Sacramento.

Though his contract will run out in July, Lepsch has applied for and is waiting to hear back about a one-month extension during which he would work with a specialized NCCC group called the Fire Management Team. This experience would allow him to draw on both his work in the field and his training at Thomas Nelson to serve in a more highly-specialized capacity.

Regardless of whether the extension comes to fruition, by this time next year, Lepsch will be done with AmeriCorps and he is already looking forward to what the future might hold for him. While he is unsure of what exactly he wants to pursue, he plans to go back to school for his bachelor’s degree.

Lepsch is also confident that whatever his long-term career ends up being, it will have something to do with service. He believes the experiences and skills he has gained with NCCC will put him in a good position to be successful at whatever he tries his hand at next.

“[NCCC] has been a good chance to get a lot of exposure and training in a lot of different fields,” Lepsch said. “It’s a great place to build your leadership skills and you go through a lot of personal and professional development.”

Alice McVicker of Williamsburg is currently volunteering with AmeriCorps at a nonprofit school in New Mexico. (Submitted.)
Alice McVicker of Williamsburg is currently volunteering with AmeriCorps at a nonprofit school in New Mexico. (Submitted.)

Alice McVicker

While Lepsch’s current contract with NCCC has focused on honing his skills as a team leader, a fellow Historic Triangle native has spent the past month learning about service from the point of view of a team member.

Alice McVicker, 18, applied to join NCCC last February, four months before she would graduate from Warhill High School.

McVicker first learned about AmeriCorps one evening while out to dinner with some friends. She happened to overhear a conversation about the organization at a nearby table. She went home that night and did some additional research, after which she was “instantly hooked” on the idea of joining.

“My family was a little bit hesitant at first,” McVicker said of her decision to embark on such a nontraditional and demanding path following high school graduation. “But after I talked about it for a while and explained everything they got on board, and now they are really proud.”

While many of her peers were starting college or new jobs this past fall, McVicker was spending time in Denver, the southwestern region campus, receiving training for the adventure on which she was about to embark.

Classes included lessons on discipline, diversity and even basic physical fitness training, all of which McVicker feels helped better prepare her for her first assignment: working at the nonprofit AppleTree Educational Center in a New Mexico town called Truth or Consequences.

McVicker spends her mornings helping her team build volunteer housing at the school and her afternoons working with the Boys and Girls Club where she teaches photography and creative writing. This split allows her the opportunity to both make a difference in the lives of kids at the school currently and also help the school long-term by providing better resources for future volunteers.

“I did not expect any of this,” McVicker said. “We can do so much. I didn’t expect it to be this great, or this fun.”

As with Lepsch’s current assignment, this is the first stop for McVicker in a series of several projects she will work on before her 10-month contract is up. After that she plans to go to college to study creative writing, where she thinks the lessons she has learned about diversity and service through AmeriCorps will help her better understand the perspectives of the variety of people she is likely to meet.

“[NCCC] has really taught me about people; you meet all types,” McVicker said. “If you ever feel even a slight urge to give back, AmeriCorps is the best organization to do it through.”

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