Submitted by dsong on
Livie Gottschall

Olivia is an AmeriCorps member serving with AmeriCorps NCCC’s Summer of Service. An upcoming biochemistry sophomore at Skidmore College in New York, Livie shares why she decided to choose AmeriCorps this summer.

Before I was born, my parents served in the Peace Corps in Macedonia. Five years ago, my family and I traveled back to Macedonia to meet the people who touched their lives and whose lives they made a difference in. It was inspiring to hear their stories and see the lasting impact of service. Two years later, my older sister, Sophie, chose to walk a life of service.

Livie (second from left) with her family in Macedonia

My sister graduated from high school in the summer of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ending school so abruptly was difficult for her. She had always planned on attending college, but the thought of sitting in her bedroom and taking online classes was not appealing. She decided that she would take a gap year and apply for AmeriCorps NCCC. In October 2020, she flew from our home in Plattsburgh, N.Y., to Sacramento, Calif., to serve 10 months with AmeriCorps NCCC. During her service, she helped kids with online classes in Sacramento and worked at a food pantry. She served at the vaccination and testing clinics at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, and helped FEMA set up pop-up vaccination sites in underserved communities around the city. She then moved to Montana with her team and worked for the Montana State Parks. It was a difficult time for my sister, as well as the nation. There were many restrictions because of the pandemic and being only 18 years old, having never been away from our family for more than a few weeks, my sister was often lonely and uncomfortable. But Sophie made some lifelong friends and got to see and experience a different part of the country. It was a life-changing experience for her where she learned a lot of valuable life skills and was filled with a sense of purpose. Witnessing that growth, I knew that one day, I would choose to join AmeriCorps, too.

Livie (far right) with her older sister Sophie (far left) and her younger sister Evie

I was so excited this winter to learn that AmeriCorps was offering short-term service in the summer. AmeriCorps NCCC Summer of Service timeline fits perfectly with my demanding college schedule. When I read the application and description of Summer of Service, I felt a sense of urgency to join.

Today, I am serving at St. Joseph’s Center of Arkansas in North Little Rock, Ark., a nonprofit organization that aims to preserve and restore its historic property through sustainable farming and food production, programs that educate and promote agritourism, and support community outreach. The surrounding areas of the farm are in a low-access 10-mile zone, meaning there is little access to affordable, nutritious food. St. Joseph applied for AmeriCorps NCCC’s help to prepare and plant crops for their hunger relief garden; tend to gardens and livestock; build new fence lining and water stations in grazing pastures; assist at the farm stand where they accept supplemental nutrition assistance program and electronic benefit transfers; and educate the community on where their food is from and how it's made. After hearing what St. Joseph Center was all about, I was eager to get things done and see their mission through. However, there were some challenges. When we arrived, we were instantly welcomed by a severe windstorm. The storm caused damage to the historic building my team is staying and working at. The 80 mph winds also knocked over many trees, creating more damage. But we didn’t hesitate to jump in and clean up broken windows and glass. Since arrival, we have cleared over 40 tons of tree debris, removed damaged and rebuilt livestock infrastructure like fences, and tended to and improved gardens. I feel fortunate that we were here to start the storm clean up so the volunteers here could focus on what they do best. Everything is under control, and we have started working on our projects with the organization.

Livie chain sawing during her service

In my short time here, I have already developed a sense of pride for the opportunity to partake in this community. St. Joseph Center is entirely volunteer-run, which is not typical for a farm. Despite being made up of service members and volunteers, there are no days off with everyone showing up every day with the purpose and drive to get things done. It is inspiring to see their dedication and care, a lesson that I hope stays with me for the rest of my life.

I also feel lucky to be surrounded by the members of my team. We all come from different walks of life but have worked together to foster a strong team dynamic where everyone is included, cared for, and heard. I learn so many different things from each member and it's energizing to feel my horizon expand.

Livie (second from left) with her team in Arkansas

My time here at St. Joseph Center is approaching the halfway point, and then it's back to my fast-paced college schedule. But I already know this is the beginning of my journey to help strengthen communities. I hope to continue reflecting on my time here to learn, grow, and develop myself as a well-rounded leader. And hopefully, one day, I may have the opportunity to bring my future children here to show them the impact my service left behind and provide them with the inspiration to serve – just like my parents. 

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