AmeriCorps impacts members’ lives in more ways than they plan. For alumna, Mackenzie Bower, AmeriCorps instilled in her a passion for service that will carry with her far beyond her completion of the program. Learn more about Mackenzie’s service experience and what she’s up to now. Question: Where and when did you serve? Answer: I served in 2017 with AmeriCorps NCCC-FEMA Corps out of the Pacific Region (Sacramento Campus) as a Corps Member and in 2018 with AmeriCorps NCCC out of the North Central Region (Vinton, Iowa Campus) as a team leader. Q: What did you do as a member? A: As a Corps Member in my first year with AmeriCorps NCCC-FEMA Corps, I had many unique experiences with my team, Topaz 11. During our first round, we were sent to Houston, Texas, to work with the American Red Cross. This led my team to work along the Texas Coast to prepare locations such as churches, schools and community centers to be shelters should there be a disaster in the area. We moved every two weeks and worked in Harlingen, Houston, Corpus Christi, Victoria and Beaumont. For our second round project, we were sent to work with FEMA Region II at the World Trade Center in New York City. We lived in a church in the Jamaica section of Queens and worked on GIS data for Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene. For our third round, we were sent to Houston, Texas, days after Hurricane Harvey hit. In the early days, we worked in shelters registering people for federal assistance and putting them in contact with other resources that could assist them. We then were able to get out into the communities and go door-to-door in affected areas, ensuring everyone had the ability to register for federal assistance and obtain the resources they needed. Next, we traveled to Lakeland, Florida, to aid those affected by Hurricane Irma. We also went door-to-door here registering people for federal assistance. My second year as a team leader for AmeriCorps NCCC was very different and challenging, but extremely exciting. I oversaw two teams for two rounds each and both had the name of Maple 4. For our first round, we were sent to Carbondale, Illinois, to work with Touch of Nature Environmental Center and the Shawnee National Forest building and maintaining trails. Our second project brought us to Bemidji, Minnesota, where we worked with the Headwaters Science Center as docents in the morning and at the Bemidji Community Food Shelf in the afternoon in the food pantry helping others who were food insecure get access to nutritious foods as well as planting, tending to and harvesting vegetables on the farm. Our third round was spent in Allegan, Michigan, working with the City of Allegan and Community Action for Allegan County where we did housing surveys, building updates and worked on a mountain biking trail. Our last round was split into two parts. The first was in Plymouth, Indiana, working with a family to repair their home that was damaged by a flood. The second part of our project was in Brown County, Indiana, removing invasive species in the state parks. Q: How did serving as an AmeriCorps member impact your life? A: My two years spent in AmeriCorps impacted my life in ways I never thought possible. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone many times, tried new things and became much more confident. I relied on my teammates and forged bonds that are unbreakable with people I may not have crossed paths with if it weren’t for this experience. I grew into a leader, stood up for what I believed in, and made a difference in many communities. I met generous community members everywhere we served that had unparalleled hospitality and mentorship for us. I swung axes, drove tractors, installed hardwood flooring and drove a 15-passenger van across the country. These are things I would have never seen myself as able to do beforehand and I left AmeriCorps knowing now I can do anything I put my mind to. Q: What did you enjoy most about your experience? A: I enjoyed serving alongside some of the best friends I will ever have. The connections that we made cannot be explained and will last a lifetime. These people became my family and I look forward to seeing what exciting endeavors are waiting for them. I also truly value that the act of service was ignited in my soul. Growing up as a Girl Scout, service was always a huge part of my life. However, completing my two years of service with AmeriCorps has shown me that service now must be the focal point of what I do on a day-to-day basis. Q: Would you recommend joining AmeriCorps to your peers? Why or why not? A: 100% YES! I recommend AmeriCorps to almost anyone I meet. I believe it to be a life-changing, challenging experience that will push you out of your comfort zone and let you experience things you never thought were possible. I think back so fondly on my time in AmeriCorps and would love for everyone to have an experience that is so impactful on their life. Q: What’s next for you? A: This experience has given me the courage to move across the country, get a job serving with the Girl Scouts, and get involved in various young professionals groups in Cincinnati, such as Habitat for Humanity, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful and Give Back Cincinnati. All of these opportunities have enabled me to continue with my passion of service, helping others and serving alongside amazing people to make a difference. I am enjoying all the organizations I have been able to get involved with and would love to continue with them. One day I would love to be able to marry my passions for service, student affairs and event planning into a career. I love serving others, mentoring college-aged individuals and planning meaningful events that people can enjoy. Honestly, the sky is the limit and I am so excited to see what is in store for me!