A Day in the Life of an AmeriCorps Member

By Ashley Oyer

As an AmeriCorps member, I get the chance to serve in a unique placement that fits my passions and interests. United Way pairs up with organizations that are the life and soul of the community and allows for members to have their own little piece of the puzzle. The United Way of Porter County is a hub of passion-filled, willing members of all ages and backgrounds that want to help and serve their community in some capacity.

Being an AmeriCorps member, I have gotten to travel all over the city of Valparaiso and make connections with new and interesting people along the way. The service that I do through AmeriCorps not only invests in the growth of the community, but also invests in my own personal growth through the people I meet, the professional development, and financial education training I receive.

One such experience was my short placement at Valparaiso’s Horticulture Center. If you’re like me, 1) you don’t know what a horticulture center is and 2) you didn’t know Valparaiso had one. The Valpo Horticulture Center is right across from the new dog park and stores the offices, plants and various gardening equipment needed to keep Valparaiso parks and streets looking their best.

These are the people responsible for maintaining the city’s landscape in an environmentally friendly way and supporting the local plant life to the best of their ability. I was unsure where my volunteering would take me, so I came prepared to be as outdoorsy as I possibly could –in my case that was wearing shorts, a tee shirt, and Converse sneakers.

I arrived at the Horticulture Center at 7am with my owl-decorated lunchbox and the largest bottle of water I could find. Steve, the department superintendent, took my temperature as a precaution during COVID-19, and then gave me my assignment: watering Ogden Gardens. I followed another staff member to the back where an official, forest green, “Valpo Parks”-adorned pickup truck was waiting for me.

I had never driven a truck before, but I was ready to take on the opportunity in full stride. I put the key in ignition and gave it a turn with anti-climactic results- no start. I tried to start the truck multiple times before asking for help and was informed that I had the wrong key entirely. Once I had the correct key in my hands, it was smooth sailing. I embarked on an uneventful, three-minute drive to Ogden Gardens where I unloaded the heaviest and longest hoses I have ever encountered. My mission, should I choose to accept it, was to keep all of the plants in Ogden Garden alive!

I spent the rest of my day watering the different trees, bushes, and flowers that were scattered throughout the grounds. While I was watering, I did my best to observe the scene around me. In the early morning, I saw an older couple arrive to walk the gardens quietly, and a family with younger kids explore the park –less quietly, of course. Throughout the day, I saw grandparents with their grandkids, teenagers with their friends, parents with their newborns, and everyone in between. I saw people setting up picnics, taking family pictures, and taking pictures of the garden itself. I started the day knowing that Ogden Gardens was a beautiful element of the community, but I ended the day knowing that Ogden Gardens created community.

Spending so much time in quarantine really reminds me of the importance of natural space- time outdoors has never been more important for one’s mental health. Having regular contact with nature is one way to exercise self-care and maintain one’s mental health. However, not everyone has access to a big backyard, so Valpo Parks performs a massive service every day simply by existing and providing outdoor spaces for people to enjoy.

These natural spaces bring joy and fond memories to the residents of this town, and the town works to maintain its beauty in response. Volunteering for Valpo Parks –whether it be for a one-time event or as a weekly routine– supports the community that the parks department strives to create.

For more information about United Way AmeriCorps Northwest Indiana program, contact Maddie Grimm, AmeriCorps Director, at maddie@unitedwaypc.org or 219.464.3583, ext. 105.

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