They stack sandbags, check pumps and fill needs that arise.
They came to Clarksville from across the nation — and one from England — to sleep on cots in an abandoned building and help strangers in a town whose name was unfamiliar until the call went out.
Crews of young people from AmeriCorps are part of the flood fight in Clarksville. The federally-funded program supplies workers who offer assistance with disaster relief and educational, environmental, community and public safety projects.
“I enjoy the service of it,” said 24-year-old Matt Farrington, a native of Virginia and a geological science graduate of James Madison University. “We don’t see it as work. We’re out here to help.”
“I love it,” added 24-year-old Florida native Nicholas Oberfrank. “This is a unique experience. It’s a good way to spend time –— serving others.”
Members receive a stipend, living expenses and time off, but the work is far from easy. A lot of time is spent away from home. Drawbacks aside, participants say it’s rewarding.
Twenty-seven-year-old Kenan Ender of St. Louis has been with AmeriCorps for five years, and has been involved with floods, fires, tornados, hurricanes and ice storms. He wouldn’t trade the experience.
“It’s part of a service ethic — trying to give back to folks and do some positive impact,” he said.
Twenty-four-year-old Jane Kersch graduated from Iowa State University in 2016 with a degree in political science and sustainability. The Dubuque native was keeping an eye on flooding in Davenport while checking pumps in Clarksville.
“I’m really interested in public service and I’m really passionate about the environment and sustainability,” she said.
Clarksville United Methodist Church is feeding AmeriCorps workers and dozens of other volunteers who come to help each day. Last Friday, 175 lunches were served. One day it’s pulled pork and smoked chicken sandwiches. The next it’s mostaccioli with garlic bread and green beans. Farrington calls it “the best food I’ve eaten during a disaster.”
Ender sees in Clarksville what he’s witnessed in other places where trouble has erupted — something he calls a “community effect” in which people pull together and take care of what needs to be done.
“It’s not anything anyone can do on their own,” he said.
Farrington says that no matter how far he roams with AmeriCorps, there are always sights and people he remembers at each stop. During a hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico, a faith-based group he came across provided inspiration by dancing and singing.
“It was a sight to behold,” Farrington said.
Bruce Bailey headed up the 15-member AmeriCorps emergency response team that came from St. Louis May 2. Some members went home May 5, but Bailey said the program will still provide services until it believes Clarksville has adequate protection.
That could be a while. The river crested overnight Saturday. But after hearing dire predictions of more rain this week, officials agreed Sunday afternoon to raise the sandbag wall protecting the downtown by two feet. In addition, Raintree Arts Council is working on plans to move the Missouri Show-Me Chili Cook-Off — originally scheduled for June 8 in Clarksville — to Louisiana as part of the Ribs on the River event June 21-22.
AmeriCorps members know at some point they’ll leave Clarksville and eventually the agency. However, they are certain they won’t stop being selfless.
“Joining this program has really opened my eyes,” Farrington said. “It’s a life-changing experience.”