AmeriCorps team Earth 7 will be primarily focused on projects for the Ottawa County Boys & Girls Club, but also servicing the OSU Extension office, various arms of the City of Miami and The Harbor.

MIAMI– A team from the Southwest region AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) has arrived in Miami to put their leadership and labor skills toward a bevy of projects over the next 12 weeks.

The mission of NCCC is to strengthen communities and develop leaders through team-based national and community service.

According to the Corporation for National Community Service, NCCC is a full-time, team-based residential service program for individuals ages 18-24 from across the country and all backgrounds.

Based out of five regional campuses in California, Maryland, Colorado, Iowa and Mississippi teams complete 6 to 12-week project assignments proposed by community sponsors who identify needs within their communities and apply for NCCC assistance. Teams serve in local communities in all 50 states and U.S. territories.

Project sponsors include national, community and faith-based nonprofit organizations; municipal and state governments; federal agencies and programs; city, state, and national parks; Tribal governments and communities; and schools throughout the U.S.

There is no direct charge to receive a NCCC team, but sponsoring organizations are asked to provide lodging, assistance with food costs, on-site technical supervision, materials and tools, and support for service learning.

NCCC teams are named according to their regional base's unit monikers and team number within their assigned unit. Known as Earth 7, the 10 member team serving Maimi will be boarding at the currently shuttered shelter site for faith-based nonprofit The Harbor while undertaking multiple projects in the area.

Comprising Earth 7 are Meghan Campbell, 22, of Springfield Massachusetts; Tyeshon Simmons, 20, of Columbus Georgia; Hailey Shunke, 11, of Green Bay, Wisconsin; Nyrasia Lomax of Bridgeport, Connecticut; Spencer Schryver, 19, of Lancaster, Massachusetts; Ashley Thompson, 23, of New Plymouth, Idaho; Nora Snyder, 19, of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, Vita Pierzchala, 22, of Rockville, Maryland; Jillian Gellman, 18, of Mountain Lakes, New Jersey and Ossian Pages, 11, of Needham, Massachusetts.

The group will be primarily focused on projects for the Ottawa County Boys & Girls Club, but also servicing the OSU Extension office, various arms of the City of Miami and The Harbor who collaborated on submitting the application for sponsorship of an AmeriCorps NCCC team as "The Partners of Ottawa County."

"Our sponsors were very prepared when we came here with exactly what kind of projects they wanted us to accomplish," said team lead Meghan Campbell. "We'll be working mostly with the Boys & Girls Club, renovating and helping with the new building in the Armoury and transferring from the building they are currently in and into that new building."

Campbell added Earth 7 would also be taking on repair and beautification work at the G.A.R Cemetery and the historical airport hangar used to train pilots for the British Royal Air Force from 1941 to 1945 for the Spartan School of Aeronautics.

"It's been really cool to see the collaboration between all the projects," said Campbell. "The fact that it really is a community and we're here to help the community as a whole in addition to the Boys & Girls Club."

Boys & Girls Club Director Mackenzie Garst also advised that team projects would include community gardens with the Miami Public Library, work at the City's Ketcher/Keheley Animal Shelter, service at a 4-H camp for the Extension Office and painting and clean-up at The Harbor facility.

Earth 7's projects in Miami will be the team's second assignment together, the first being in Kansas City, Missouri.

"This is our second project together as a team," said Ashley Thompson, media representative for the team. "Before we were in Kansas City, Missouri, helping Operation Breakthrough, which is an early childcare center and also an after and before school program. It also provides parent resources, like helping to find jobs."

With boots on the ground the Thursday, April 13, Earth 7 was already at work in the Courthouse Annex Community Room in downtown Miami setting up tables and chairs for the Partners for Ottawa County Inc. (POCI) meeting that would gather there at noon.

POCI is a nonprofit whose primary focus is working for the betterment of families, especially children & youth, in Ottawa County and its surrounding communities. The POCI Board and members hold a public meeting the second Thursday of every month at the Annex.

Making short work of the POCI set up, several members looked about the room for more to do, with one even asking Garst if she had timed them and how long it had taken the team to get the space prepared.

Without missing a beat, Garst put the team at ease while simultaneously appealing to their industriousness with a seasoned wry humor.

"I could make up a time," said Garst grinning with her reply. "It took you two minutes and 12 seconds. Your goal was two minutes and 11 seconds so you can try harder next time."

With a collective laugh, the buzz of activity calmed down as the team regrouped preparing for an initial tour of the city and the sites they would be working over the next 12 weeks.

When asked how many of them were visiting Oklahoma or the Midwest for the first time during their NCCC service term, more than half of the team's hands went up accompanied by excited and delighted smiles.

Concerning Miami specifically, the sentiments expressed were an appreciation of the city's welcoming attitude, its rich history and having direct access to Native American culture and heritage.

"How incredibly welcoming all the people have been. Everyone seems so excited to see us and that makes us really excited to see everyone else," said Vita Pierzchala. "I mean just how welcoming they are. How nice they are. How passionate they are about their communities. It inspires our team to do a really great job and benefit this community in any way that we can."

Spencer Schryver shared, "It's been a great experience seeing the different backgrounds and histories of all the areas we've come across and the different struggles each area faces. It's an awesome experience addressing them directly."

"I am so excited about the history of this community," said Thompson. "The Nine Tribes, the cemetery, and the Coleman, so I am excited to learn more about it all."

The team's service learning initiator Ossian Pages expressed a desire to start up lacrosse play at the Boys & Girls Club and was intrigued to learn the Miami Nation and other tribes had rooted in their cultural heritage games closely linked to lacrosse.

Earth 7 will be in Miami through July 7.

Dorothy Ballard is the managing news editor for the Miami News-Record. Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.