BEARDS FORK — While laying the groundwork for future projects which will benefit portions of Fayette County and the surrounding area, members of an AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps team are collecting valuable life lessons themselves.

Since Sept. 15, the Southern Appalachian Labor School has opened its doors to a team, led by Isaiah Maxi, from the AmeriCorps NCCC to assist with two projects. The 10-person crew, based out of a regional AmeriCorps NCCC campus in Vicksburg, Miss., is working on clearing the SALS Beards Fork Trail, which will eventually result in an exercise trail for the community. Crew members are also preparing virtual educational materials for the SALS Accent Education After-School Program, which will soon be underway.

They have also helped with unloading the Mountaineer Food Bank truck and have been involved with food pantry distributions at the Historic Oak Hill School and the SALS Community Center in Beards Fork.

According to Dr. John David, SALS director, the vital assistance from AmeriCorps NCCC is a "greatly appreciated addition to making a difference and contribution to the community and the programs offered by SALS."

"We're out here building trails (adjacent to what used to be the old Virginian Railway)," said Maxi, who hails from Kansas City, Mo. "We're also helping with educational pieces of online materials, packaged in brochures and pamphlets to send out to the youth in this community just to try to reduce learn-loss while they're still trying to figure out the whole transition between whether they want to stay in school or whether they are doing online learning.

"And we have an understanding that everyone, especially in the rural areas, doesn't have access to internet, so we're trying to provide a variety of materials for those young individuals."

The team performs trail work in the mornings then works on the educational outreach aspect in the afternoons. Members have even had a little bit of down time to take a detour to view the New River Gorge Bridge.

The NCCC team currently at Beards Fork is comprised of six men and four women, all hailing from a variety of hometowns throughout the country. Corps members are normally 18 to 24 years of age, although the upper range has temporarily been hiked to 26 in response to the Covid-19 situation. Team leaders can be 18-and-up. Maxi's team ranges from 18 to 26, he said.

"Half of us have a college degree," he said. "Two are taking a gap year between high school and college.

"We all are doing this service commitment (team leader is 11 months and corps members are 10 months). It's a residential-based program so all of the teams are housed together on separate projects across the country, and we do receive a small stipend."

The NCCC team has been in Beards Fork since Sept. 15. Later in October, they will depart for their next project in Kentucky. Half of that round will include serving in Richmond, Ky. with the Habitat for Humanity affiliate, and the other half of the round will be spent in Louisville serving with Urban Forestry and a YMCA camp, provided they are not pulled to serve in a disaster.

Maxi says it's been a solid learning opportunity for the team members.

"We are a new team, so we are still learning to work as a cohesive unit," he said. "It has been a lot of my team members' first time working on a trail and also using these assortment of tools, including hand saws, hatchets, loppers and an axe. It has been a learning process and day by day the team continues to hone their skills with these tools clearing up 1.85 miles of the 2.5-mile trail.

"Also, the team has taken this time to be creative in creating educational material for the youth in the community SALS serves. Making educational videos, gathering material for packets and also uploading online material. We have learned that coal mining has been a huge part of the history of this community and the pride that comes with this history of coal mining. With each project, our hope is to assist organizations in fulfilling their mission. So with serving with SALS we hope that our service can assist the members of this community, giving them another opportunity at recreational activity and also giving them a variety of learning material to assist with distant learning."

While Maxi and his crew plan to complete the first phase of the trail-clearing project before they depart the area, the "hope is to get another team in to possibly level out the walking trail."

Once completed, the trail will be marked with entry signs.

Anyone who wants to explore the AmeriCorps NCCC program can visit https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps/americorps-programs/americorps-nccc/join-americorps-nccc

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

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