By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN What has Hannah Wortz been up to since she graduated from Lester Prairie High School in 2006?
The simple answer is “serving.”
Her latest adventure is a 10-month stint with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).
“I’m not making a lot of money, but the skills I’m learning are irreplaceable,” said Hannah, the daughter of Lloyd and Carol Wortz of Lester Prairie.
Founded in 1994, AmeriCorps NCCC is a residential national service program that supports disaster relief, the environment, infrastructure improvement, energy conservation, and urban and rural development.
As a corps member, Hannah will be responsible for completing a series of service projects (at least 1,700 hours) as part of a 10-person team.
Her training began Oct. 12 in Denver, CO, and emphasized teamwork, leadership development, and American Red Cross certification.
“In mid-November, we went to Eudora, AR for about five weeks,” Hannah said. “It was an education-based project.”
Hannah worked as a preschool teacher’s aide, tutored/mentored two third grade students, and assisted a high school film class.
She also served at the J. Austin White Cultural Center, which offers music, art, theater, and other activities for youth in southeast Arkansas.
“The first week, we did visual arts, with clay pottery and team building,” Hannah said. “Week two, we did theater, and older children wrote their own skits.”
Home and away
When the project ended Dec. 16, Hannah came back to Minnesota for a short break. Even then, though, she volunteered for office duties at Lester Prairie High School.
At the beginning of January, Hannah left for her second project, in Tulsa, OK, where she is helping low-income families with tax forms.
“When they told me I was doing taxes, I was like, you know what? They can train us for anything,” Hannah said. “I love how much experience I’m getting.”
Hannah and her team will find out their next assignment in February, and move to a new location in March.
“I have no idea which projects will be available,” she said.
A giving family
Hannah’s family has always enjoyed volunteer work, whether through the Lester Prairie Lions, Bethel Lutheran Church, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, or other community organizations.
“Hannah’s first taste of volunteering was probably at Mary’s Place (Sharing and Caring Hands) in Minneapolis,” Carol said.
Throughout her life, Hannah has served in all kinds of ways like raking leaves, doing office work at a domestic abuse shelter, and coaching poly hockey for Special Olympics.
She spent several summers at Kids Company in Waconia, and especially loves working with children.
In fact, when she first got to college at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Hannah planned to pursue elementary education.
“Two years in, I switched to social work,” she said, explaining that she was drawn to the degree’s flexibility.
During college, Hannah went to Atlanta for an alternative spring break destination. She served meals at a homeless shelter, and slept on a foam mat, with rats nearby.
“That was an experience,” she said.
Hannah wasn’t deterred, however, and went back the following year.
“The third year, I went on my first international one, to the Dominican Republic,” she said. “We taught English and lived in an orphanage.”
By that time, Hannah said her heart was set on AmeriCorps NCCC.
“I really loved that NCCC involves travel,” she said. “I applied over a year ago.”
Hannah graduated from college in May 2011, and spent the summer as a day-camp coordinator at the Woodbury YMCA.
“A week before my summer job ended, I heard from them [AmeriCorps NCCC],” she said. “It just fell into place.”
As part of NCCC, Hannah will do 1,700 hours of service, including 80 hours of independent service.
So far, her independent service has included work at a Japanese botanical garden, the Denver Green School, and the Denver Rescue Mission.
Hannah and her team also helped with a Christmas open house at the Lakeport Plantation in Arkansas.
“I did storytelling and photography,” she said.
Motivated to learn
From learning how to put snow chains on a tire to building trails, AmeriCorps members have wide skill sets.
“People tell us that we get three weeks of work done in two days, because we’re so motivated,” Hannah said. “It’s exciting to be able to see how much I’ll learn.”
Hannah said the best part of service work is seeing different communities and having the opportunity to make people’s lives better.
“It’s very powerful at the end of a project,” she said. “You know you’re making a difference, and it’s just fun.”
Being part of a team is also a valuable experience.
“You learn so much about yourself,” she said.
Two people on Hannah’s team are fluent in Spanish, and one girl is deaf.
“After two months, I know over 200 signs,” Hannah said. “We’ve all been learning. The running joke on our team is that we’re going to be trilingual at the end.”
In exchange for their service, AmeriCorps NCCC members receive $5,550 to help pay for college, as well as a small living stipend and room and board.
Men and women ages 18 to 24 are eligible to apply for AmeriCorps NCCC. For more information, go to www.americorps.gov