Mercedes, age 20.
Host site: Three Rivers Christian School in Longview, WA
“We’ve only been in Longview for about six months. When we first moved here, I was nine months pregnant. After my maternity leave with my son, I started working at the chicken factory. We’re originally from the Tri-Cities area but moved to Long Beach for better job opportunities for my daughter. I have two kids: my three-year-old, Olivia, and my 4-month old son, Oliver. Oliver just had neurosurgery because his skull bones had formed too early. He’s one-week post-op today. Babies are so resilient. A couple of hours after surgery, he was smiling.
We lived in Long Beach for about three years. We had a 1.5 bedroom that was perfect for our little family, but we couldn’t all fit once my son was born. And rentals in Long Beach are one in a million. Everyone just buys a house there and comes once a month for a vacation home, making rentals impossible. We had to move to Longview so that we had more room for my son.
When I lived in Long Beach, I was a home care aid. The person that I cared for got COVID and passed away. That was when COVID was getting bad, back in March. I was on a personal contract, and that was around the time I was pregnant. Right now, my health care career is on pause. It’s not something I want to risk because I was working with the elderly population and I’m out in the hospital a lot for my son’s appointments.
I had a job here at the chicken factory. But I couldn’t work there anymore. It was the same thing over and over and over again. I wanted fulfillment at the end of the day. I wanted to feel like I was giving back to my community and doing something that was making an impact. Something that will be here once I’m gone. I was so tired of working the 9 to 5 and having nothing to show for it. At the end of the day, when I went home, my daughter would ask me what I did today. It was always the same thing. I moved chicken from point A to point B, over and over. And I stood in the same spot. I was just a number in a line. Versus now, I’m a coordinator of a whole agriculture program. I take care of bees; I’m a beekeeper; I’m a farmer; I tend to goats. I have so many different titles now and it’s all thanks to the COVID Response Corps and AmeriCorps. I’m very thankful. It got my family and me out of a big rut. Anyone can put two pieces of chicken on a thing and send it down the line. I would rather be feeding the chickens like I do now. Now I look forward to going to work in the morning.
This program is important because it will give back to our community for years and years to come. It’s amazing that the COVID Response Corps has implemented this to actively help. We have seen food scarcity, especially at Lower Columbia CAP; there have been more people coming in and getting food baskets. A lot of people are out of their jobs because they’re just scared. They’re scared to bring it home to their families. We have a lot of people in Cowlitz County, just going on unemployment. That’s affecting how everything functions here. All the stores are closing down. When you start closing stuff down like that, it starts getting into people’s heads just how real it is. Job security is a big issue in Cowlitz County. We have areas that people are really struggling.
In the spring, we’ll have tons of food to give back to the community. It’s just an awesome way to give back. Everybody is always so worried about themselves sometimes that it’s important for people to look at the bigger picture to see what’s really needed. At Three Rivers Christian School, we’re doing the permaculture thing. We’re doing a lot of prep work right now because we’re doing a no-dig garden, so we’re not digging into the ground. We lay out newspaper and cardboard over the whole area to kill all the leaves. And then we’re putting wood chips and mulch on top of it. Over the winter, it will feed the soil. Then during the spring, we’ll punch through that mulch and cardboard and then plant in that. That big garden we’re establishing will give food back to the community for tons of years to come. It’s super awesome.
I’m hoping to do another term with AmeriCorps and want to use the Segal education award, which is $6,000 per term, and use it to go to nursing school and further my career. This program is awesome and sets us up for our future. It was something I was struggling with, the schooling aspect, so hopefully, after all of this is over, I’m able to further my career. I’m still young. I still have plenty of time to get my schooling in. Hopefully, I can get my CNA, my RN, and then work in the hospital like I want to and help people. At the end of the day, I want to do something bigger than myself.
I think that this is the best decision that I have personally made. It sounds a bit intimidating when you first go into it all, and there is a lot to learn. But once you go through orientation and get set up with your host site, they’re super responsive. It’s great people who are meeting other great people. It’s a way to give back to your community. I love it. I’m super excited.”