BY MICHELLE MILLER
Helping others has become a family endeavor for the Pearlman family. Cooperstown Central School graduate Molly Pearlman has been home for the holidays while in between projects. The 2011 graduate began a 10-month term of servicein the National Civilian Community Corps, an AmeriCorps program, last month. She said her inspiration to participate in the program came from her father and brother.
“My dad volunteered in New Orleans with the Red Cross after the floods hit there,” Pearlman said. “He came home and talked about how great it was and how he wished he did it right after high school before going to college.”
Pearlman said his stories inspired her brother, Joshua, to sign up for AmeriCorps in 2009, and since she always wanted to do what her older brother did, she was inspired to learn more about it from him. “I’ve known since the 10th grade that I would also do it,” she said. “I am thankful for Joshua doing it and for my dad for bringing back the idea. The experience has been absolutely amazing.”
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.
Pearlman, daughter of David Pearlman and Nancy Potter of Cooperstown, arrived at AmeriCorps NCCC’s Southwest Region Campus in Denver and began training in October. According to a media release from the NCCC, training emphasized teamwork, leadership development, communication, service learning and certification by the American Red Cross.
Pearlman said she is among 300 other young adults, ages 18-24, staying at Denver Heights Campus.
There are four other NCCC campuses, which are in Perry Point, Md., Vinton, Iowa, Vicksburg, Miss. and Sacramento, Calif. Each is a hub for its respective area of the country, though teams will travel to other regions for disaster relief projects.
She said as a corps member she will be responsible for completing what should be four long-term service projects. She said it could be more if her team is called upon to help during a disaster. According to Pearlman, her campus consists of four units: Water, earth, sun and fire. She is part of the water unit. She said there are seven teams within a unit with about 10 people per team.
Pearlman just finished up her first service project in Boulder, Colo. She said her team worked with Open Space and Mountain Parks, an organization that preserves and protects the natural environment and land resources that characterize Boulder. According to its website, 45,000 acres of land has been preserved and protected.
“Wildlife habitat, unique geologic features, greenways and 144 miles of trails are all part of Boulder’s Open Space & Mountain Parks,” says the site. In 1967, Boulder became the first city in the country to pass a sales tax of 0.40 percent for the acquisition and management of open space lands. An additional 0.33 percent was approved by the voters in 1989.
It is an inspiring organization, said Pearlman. She said her team assisted in helping build the Green Briar trail for a couple weeks.
“The good thing about the project was they did not tell us how to do it, they told us why we were doing it, which gave the project much more meaning,” Pearlman said.
Pearlman said she and her fellow team members also got to travel into the heavilyforested mountains to do fire mitigation. A bunch of trees were down, Pearlman said, so we helped with things like wood chipping and spreading out the brush so it would not be in big clumps and kill off vegetation.
Pearlman’s team was also assigned to work in a large food bank for a week. She said she helped prepare thousands of pounds of food to be shipped off to other food banks. It was like a big distribution center, she said.
“It was a really fulfilling month,” Pearlman said.
Soon Pearlman will be off to the south east corner of Arkansas in a small town called Eucdora for her next assignment. She said the town has a population of about 2,000 and is poverty-stricken.
Pearlman said she and her fellow team members will beliving in cabins and going to help out the teachers at theschools during the day and conducting their own classes in the afternoons. Some will be at the elementary, middle or high school, according to Pearlman. She said she will beat the elementary school.
Pearlman said the schools are facing program losses, specifically in the music and arts. She and the other team members will be teaching three classes of their own choice at the J. Austin White Cultural Center so that students have other educational options. She said she plans to teach some sort of sports class, a ligature appreciation class and a tutoring class so students can get help with their homework.
“I really would like to find a way to get a bunch of copies of ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ to read. Maybe I will get some short stores and so forth,” Pearlman said.
“I am really excited to work with the kids, building trails was a good experience and fun, but working with kids is really what I love to do,” she added.
Pearlman said she was interested in studying journalism, law, international relations or government and politics before her experiences with the Corps. Now she said she is unsure.
“I never thought I would like to teach, but this might change that,” Pearlman said. “I also never though I would be building trails and enjoying it. I think the things I always thought I would want to do may be altered by this year.”
Pearlman said she plans to attend Brandeis University and finds its social justice in public policy “really interesting.” However, she said she does not have any choice of major set in stone.
She said she is soaking up the experiences that are in front of her now.
“AmeriCorps is an amazing organization and I can’t say enough good things about it,” she said. “They really teach you to respect and take care of your stuff and your life. They don’t just throw you into a city and say good luck.” Pearlman said she has become homesick during her journeys, but not for extensive time periods. She said everyone there is in the same situation and they lean on one another.
“It is like having my own little family there,” she said. “I didn’t think I could get so close to nine other people so fast. I feel like I have known them forever.”
Pearlman said she would urge others to think about AmeriCorps as another option after high school.
“One does not need to be filtered right into college,” she said.
AmeriCorps NCCC members complete at least 1,700 hours of service during the 10-month program. In exchange for their service, they receive $5,550 to help pay for college. According to the release, “other benefits include asmall living stipend, room and board, leadership development, team building skills and the knowledge that, through active citizenship, they can indeed make a difference.”
“I have learned so much about myself and who I want to be and who has always been inside of me,” Pearlman said. “I’ve gained a lot of confidence through this and figuring out myself. AmeriCorps gives you a lot of time to think and reflect on things.”
AmeriCorps NCCC is administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service. For more information about AmeriCorps NCCC, visit the website at www.americorps. gov/nccc.