Each year, 70,000 Americans lend their time and energy to meeting the country's critical needs in education, public safety, health and the environment through voluntary service in AmeriCorps.
One of those dedicated individuals is 21-year-old Candace Trautwein, a Wood River High School graduate.
"Last year I was going to CSI (College of Southern Idaho) and I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with my life," Trautwein said. "I didn't want to keep spending money when I simply wasn't sure what my plans were."
But joining the AmeriCorps has added new purpose to her life.
"Since I joined AmeriCorps I have done so many things that I never even dreamed of one year ago," said Trautwein, whose duties include working with Habitat for Humanity in Jackson, Miss., building and repairing affordable housing units.
"I had never done a construction project before this. We are building homes from the ground floor, up."
Trautwein also is serving as the AmeriCorps Ambassador in Jackson, where she is the de facto liaison between AmeriCorps, its partners and the local community. Jackson is about the same size as Boise.
According to its Web site, AmeriCorps works in conjunction with more than 2,000 nonprofit organizations, public agencies and faith-based organizations. Since 1994, more than 400,000 men and women have provided needed assistance to millions of Americans throughout the nation.
While attending CSI, Trautwein began to research other options. Initially the Peace Corps seemed like a possibility, but she found it "prefers an older age group ... volunteers with college degrees and language experience."
Since its inception in 1960, the Peace Corps has sent roughly 190,000 volunteers around the world, a relatively small number when compared to AmeriCorps.
And yet, "most people have never heard of AmeriCorps, while the Peace Corps is a household name," Trautwein said.
The work is hard and the days are long, but "this is so rewarding. I have learned a lot about myself," Trautwein said. "This is probably the best decision I've made in my life."
When she's not working, she enjoys spending time with her new friends.
"My teammates are awesome. We live together and we work together," Trautwein said. On Mondays her team helps with landscaping at the local YMCA and in return they can work out at the Y for free.
In two weeks, Trautwein and her team will be headed to New Orleans, where the devastation from Hurricane Katrina still looms large.
In New Orleans, her role will shift from construction to education. She will tutor students from kindergarten to eighth grade at Our Lady of Prompt Succor, a private school in St. Bernard Parish.
"St. Bernard Parish remains one of the most devastated communities in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina," states the New Orleans Chapter of Habitat for Humanity "... (it) suffered significant structural damage to 100 percent of its residential and commercial units."
According to the U.S Census Bureau, St. Bernard Parish held a population of around 65,000 before Katrina. The Census Bureau has not conducted an official survey since, but according to parishplans.org, the population is down to roughly 25,000 today. It's a void Trautwein and her team obviously cannot fill—but for the kids at the school her presence could make all the difference in the world.
"Everything you do, no matter how small, helps somebody," Trautwein said. She admits some of her time is difficult and she misses family and friends.
"For an Idaho girl to be dropped in the South, it's not easy. But you work through it."
Trautwein plans on returning to school when her 10-month stint is over. She will be receiving a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award of $4,725 for her service, an award Trautwein plans to put towards her newfound direction.
"I plan to go back to school and get my degree in psychology."