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Program takes volunteer all over the place'
Former resident in AmeriCorps
AmeriCorps volunteer Joe Wittig is tutoring children in Denver. - photo by Submitted
Joe Wittig is going out West.

In six months’ time, he’s moved from his Cumming home to New Caney, Texas, to New Orleans and now out to Denver.

Wittig, 24, is participating in AmeriCorps, a program that puts young adult volunteers to work in needed areas nationwide.

“I originally thought it’d be a great way to do some alternative-type service for my country,” he said by phone from Colorado.

“It just sounded like a great opportunity to travel around doing different service projects that would expose me to different career opportunities.”

Wittig signed up for AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps program, which lasts for 10 months and sends 18- to 24-year-olds to clear trails, provide disaster relief, renovate housing and tutor children.

Upon completion of service, the program also awards money for college or to repay student loans.

With AmeriCorps, the volunteers live in groups of eight to 12, working on four projects in different places.

“There are unmet needs all over the place,” Wittig said. “There’s plenty to do wherever you’re located. It’s just neat to be able ... to have the experience to see different places.”

Wittig had participated in service projects during his years at Kennesaw State University, but he hadn’t done much traveling.

His first AmeriCorps project took him to New Caney, Texas, near Houston, rebuilding trails and performing park maintenance.

His team then moved on to New Orleans to renovate homes and provide other relief from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“There’s still plenty of damage in people’s homes that never got fixed or still needs work,” Wittig said.

In the Big Easy, he also got to experience the local flavor during Mardi Gras, as well as the Saints’ Super Bowl win.

For his third project, he was able to rank his choices, landing his top pick of tutoring in a Denver fifth-grade classroom.

Wittig said he wanted to participate in all the aspects of AmeriCorps, with education his favorite.

“You see some of the light bulbs turn on when a kid understands something,” he said. “That’s really powerful.”

Teammate Andrew Stevens shared Wittig’s appreciation for helping out in the primarily lower income school.

The two have grown close throughout their experience, from volunteering choices to racquetball matches in their free time.

Stevens said teammates learn a lot about each other living in close quarters.

Wittig, he said, is one of the cleanest roommates.

“He’s always a hard worker and very understanding to people’s needs,” Stevens said.

Stevens, who hails from Pennsylvania, agreed with Wittig that it’s been fun to meet folks from different parts of the country who share an interest in service.

The volunteers also experience many different areas of the nation, something Wittig said forced him out of his comfort zone.

Now, he’s gotten used to getting up early and going all the time.

“Once you’re in a project for a month, you’re kind of wondering, ‘Where are we going next? OK, let’s go,’” he said.

Wittig, who majored in business, said AmeriCorps has given him the opportunity to “see where there are needs for nonprofit organizations.”

He hopes to work in microfinance, a career he’ll start pursuing after he finishes his service, though he’s not sure where.

Whether in the private or nonprofit business world, Wittig said the journey has given him a new outlook for his life.

“There’s a lot more meaning now for me in volunteering and doing service,” he said.

“Not only will I participate more in certain opportunities to give back, but I’ll hopefully be able to tie that in with my background in business to make a difference.”