By Tara Mathews
HOWARD LAKE, MN Howard Lake resident Elena Lillehei graduated from Ameri-Corps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) July 24, after 10 months of nationwide community service.
She was one of 234 AmeriCorps NCCC members honored at graduation ceremonies at the Pacific Region campus in Sacramento, CA.
Lillehei was born in St. Louis Park in August 1993. She attended Delano Public Schools, graduating in 2011.
The daughter of Richard and Kathleen Lillehei of Howard Lake, Elena has two sisters, Marina and Juliana.
In the fall of 2011, Elena attended college at Iowa State University, where she majored in psychology.
During her sophomore year, Elena signed up for AmeriCorps.
“From as far back as middle school, I have always been enthralled by the Peace Corps and the idea that the program stands for,” she commented. “Because the Peace Corps is a two-year commitment and usually requires a four-year college degree in an applicable major, it was not a viable option to me at the time I signed up.”
After hearing about the AmeriCorps NCCC program, which is only a 10-month commitment, Elena felt like the program was waiting for her, she said.
She participated in five different projects during her AmeriCorps service; the first at Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park in Earlimart, CA.
“As a team, eight of us worked on preserving the rich history of the park’s buildings and houses from the early 1900s,” she commented.
The second project in which Elena participated was in southern Oregon, for a non-profit botanical garden called Pacifica.
The group she was with tore down and reconstructed barbed wire fencing, removed dead trees and debris from a fire, and planted new saplings around the park.
Elena’s third AmeriCorps project took place outside San Jose, CA in many Santa Clara County parks.
Her fourth project involved a variety of maintenance tasks related to repairing damage from California wildfires near the Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area in the central California valley, just over the mountains from Los Angeles.
Elena’s last project in Ameri-Corps took place in a community garden in Seattle, WA.
There, she worked constructing lock and load retaining walls for a non-profit organization called Interlm, which focuses on settling refugees.
“The service my team and I were able to perform for those in need, and their resulting gratitude will be a feeling of positive energy and kinship that will never leave me,” Elena stated.
Although picking a favorite moment or memory was tough for Elena, she stated that her favorite project was the Pacifica botanical garden.
“Now that my service is complete, I feel like the world has opened more possibilities for me to continue with community service,” Elena noted.