AmeriCorps educating about Lewis and Clark

Thursday, August 21, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:34 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

Joseph Fighting Bear Hodge carries a photograph of his great-great-grandfather Manuelito in his shirt pocket. The last war chief of the Navajo Nation, Manuelito described education as a ladder and urged his people to climb it. His words inspired Hodge, who is Navajo and Apache, to teach in Colorado.

Now Hodge will help educate people here about the Lewis and Clark expedition and the history of the Missouri River. Hodge is one of several AmeriCorps volunteers working on the new Lewis and Clark Bicentennial AmeriCorps project, spearheaded by the Missouri River Communities Network in Columbia.

“We were the only new project that got funded in the state of Missouri,” said Steve Johnson, executive director of the network.

Johnson said that Missouri’s AmeriCorps program has been cut severely and that there are only about 130 AmeriCorps members in the state this year. By comparison, there were 237 AmeriCorps Missourians last year, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.

By Tuesday, the network had filled seven of the 10 volunteer positions available.

“I’ve been impressed with the caliber of people that are interested in doing this project,” Johnson said.

In 2003-04, the network’s AmeriCorps members will be involved in a variety of activities related to the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial in Missouri. They will make historical presentations in schools and for civic and community organizations. The Missouri Department of Conservation is providing curriculum trunks complete with furs, beads, medallions and replica boats.

The group will also help smaller communities along the Missouri River organize Lewis and Clark Bicentennial activities and prepare for a re-enactment flotilla planned for 2004.

“In Missouri, we have an opportunity to be a destination place for people who are interested in Lewis and Clark,” Johnson said.

Corps members will also organize cleanups of the Katy Trail, plant trees along the trail and arrange cleanups in riverfront communities. They will also help install 20 to 25 historical interpretive signs in towns along the Big Muddy.

The volunteers, who started work this week, are interested in the Lewis and Clark bicentennial project for different reasons.

Hodge, 56, moved to Missouri less than a year ago after becoming bored in his early retirement.

“I realized this would be another avenue to take to tell the history of my people and some of the contemporary concerns we have,” he said.

Shannon Shanely is finishing work on a doctorate in environmental education at the University of Florida and came to Missouri when her husband received a post-doctoral fellowship at MU. She said the majesty of the river drew her to the project. She also loved the whole idea of AmeriCorps, which began in 1993 as a domestic version of the Peace Corps.

Kate Sinnett recently earned a doctorate in theater from MU.

“I had a strong interest in Lewis and Clark and found myself looking for work,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of community work in theater and found my goals overlapping with the program’s.”

Bryan Maness just graduated from MU with a history degree and has been working with social justice groups. He said he is interested in the historical aspects of the Lewis and Clark program as well as working with river communities and helping them develop activities.

A couple of volunteers said they joined AmeriCorps because it’s a tough time to find work.

In exchange for their service, the Missouri River Communities Network volunteers will receive a modest living allowance, plus an education award of $4,725 after completing a year of full-time service. They were excited about getting started this week.

“It seems like a good team,” Sinnett said. “I think it’ll be fun.”

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