The historic locomotive located alongside Nott Terrace in Schenectady rests on top of a pile of rocks.
David Sinkler, 19, picked up the rocks that had fallen from the pile one by one and neatly placed them back where they belong.
“I have done a lot of bad things in my life,” he said, standing up straight. “I am just here trying to give back what I have taken from this community.”
Sinkler is one of 25 young people who are a part of the AmeriCorps program collaborating with Northeast Parent & Child Society in Schenectady this summer. The participants in the program range from 17 to 24 years old and will be helping clean up parts of Schenectady for the next seven weeks. They spent the past three days cleaning up the grounds at the Museum of Innovation and Science (miSci). By December, they will have completed 450 hours of community service.
The program falls under Northeast’s Career Development Services division. The division was launched several years ago in response to an epidemic of homelessness, unemployment and school dropouts among the local young adult population, according to Jennifer Lawrence, the vice president of Career Development Services.
AmeriCorps, a domestic version of the Peace Corps, is an intensive community service work program. AmeriCorps is an important component of Career Development Services and offers young adults opportunities they may not otherwise have, such as building their work history and giving back to the community.
“We really look to develop and foster a sense of giving back,” Lawrence said.
The young people come from several of Northeast’s programs: the School at Northeast, Northeast’s Children’s Home, group homes and supervised independent living program apartments.
For three days, half of the group has been helping to clean up and landscape the grounds at miSci, including an upper parking lot and the area around the locomotive on Nott Terrace. Through the winter and over the past few months, the area surrounding the locomotive in front of miSci became disheveled. Weeds, displaced rocks and garbage took over the property, but on Wednesday after the cleanup, there was little sign of that.
“We are nonprofit and we are always looking for ways to make the place better,” said William “Mac” Sudduth, executive director of miSci. “This helps us a great deal.”
Once the program participants put in their 450 hours of volunteer work, they are eligible to receive an educational award through AmeriCorps, according to Lawrence. They can use this award money toward college or any advanced training after they graduate from the program.
Sinkler, like many of the young people in the program, plans to do just that. He said he will go to college after the completion of the program.
“It is an opportunity for them to make a difference,” Sudduth said, “and also to move up, to be able to go get an education.”
Tessa Smith, 17, helped pull weeds and rake at miSci Wednesday — all with a smile on her face.
“I grew up in Schenectady, and the museum was one of my favorite places to go when I was growing up.” she said.
When Smith heard about the AmeriCorps program, she, like Sinkler, was intrigued. Smith felt this was something she could benefit from and so could the local community.
“That’s a really good way to spend my summer instead of sitting home,” she said. “I could have gotten like a McDonald’s job, but this is just so much more fun and helps out so much more.”
Lawrence said that 90 percent of the work the group will do this summer will be in Schenectady, but they will also travel to places like Fort Plain to help with flood cleanup. Other projects the young people will participate in this summer include park cleanups, gardening, more landscaping and disaster relief.
“Even though you are young, you can give back,” Lawrence said. “Our program is about getting and giving.”