Peninsula native has East Coast adventure with AmeriCorps

Marianne Mack, "Nani" to her friends, finished college at the University of Washington and immediately launched into a year-long adventure with the the AmeriCorps volunteer service. DAMIAN MULINIX photo

OCEAN PARK - Building new buildings, tearing down old. Removing invasive plant life, making sure not to spill a single seed. Working with inner-city youth and the under-privileged. Sound like something you'd like to do after college?

Ocean Park resident Marianne Mack, or "Nani" as she is affectionatly known by her friends and family, had such an experience. For ten months she worked throughout the southeastern U.S. as a member of the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).

The AmeriCorps is often referred to as "the domestic Peace Corps." It was created by the U.S. government in 1993, and employs volunteers through both monetary and educational grant awards. The volunteers work on a variety of community service projects during their tour of duty.

A 23-year-old graduate of Ilwaco High School, Mack was first turned on to Americorps while attending the University of Washington, where she worked with the Boys and Girls Club, tutoring students in the Seattle area.

Prior to her graduation from UW, Mack looked into other AmeriCorp programs but was pretty set on going to graduate school. However, she was not accepted into the school she applied for. "Luckily, when I found out I didn't get into grad school, a week later I found out I got into AmeriCorps. So I thought, 'Good, now I don't have to find a real job,'" joked Mack.

She was accepted into the NCCC, a group broken into teams of ten to 12 people who work with different organizations and do different projects, each lasting two to ten weeks. There are five campuses for NCCC, they are located in Sacramento, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Colorado, and Charleston, South Carolina.

"I was hoping I'd get stuck in Charleston," said Mack, "I've just never been there, thought it would be great. The weather's always nice in the south."

After graduating in June 2001 with a bachelor's degree in cultural anthropology, Mack worked the remainder of the summer at the job she currently works at today, at Oysterville Sea Farms.

She flew out to Charleston in mid-September of '01, just weeks after 9/11.

"I got searched like 400 times," said Mack of her flight, though she wasn't afraid of flying to the East Coast so soon after the September attacks, "I kinda thought it would probably be the safest time to fly. Besides, I couldn't think about stuff like that, I was flying!"

Upon arrival Mack spent the first month in training for the program, similar to a sort of boot camp. Among other things, each individual was to memorize the AmeriCorps pledge so they could recite it when necessary. Did Nani have hers memorized?

"I actually got up there one morning for physical training at like 6:30 [a.m.] and we're all like half asleep," said Mack, "I had to get up there and do the pledge. I'm trying to read it and we're under a street light and it's really dark. I'm trying to read it because I didn't have it memorized. I came to a part where it says something about perseverance and I say something about preserving, and everyone echoed what I had said. Then they realized what they said and everyone started laughing. So that was great."

The first of her team's projects started mid-October in Nashville, Tenn., where the group worked with the local Salvation Army on a giving tree. The idea was that families in need would fill out cards that told of what they wanted and needed for Christmas. The cards would be hung on Christmas trees for people to select and buy items on the list for the families. This project lasted through December and helped close to 5,000 families.

"It was hard sometimes," says Mack of the time when the gifts were handed out to the recipients, "But there were a lot of happy people."

Following a winter break in which Mack visited Washington D.C. for the first time, she found herself somewhere she never would have imagined, back in Portland.

"It was really weird because I was really not expecting to come back here the whole year," said Mack, who ended up being chosen by her team to represent them at a workshop in the Rose City to train how to be an instructor for safe baby-sitting practices.

While she was back on the West Coast for a week, the rest of her team had moved on to their next assignment, this time in the Florida Keys, a place that Nani says she wouldn't mind re-visiting some day.

"The Florida Keys were gorgeous!" However, don't take her through Miami - "I never want to go back there again. It's an expensive city. You have to pay to go to the bathroom in McDonald's!"

The project in Florida saw the team removing non-native plants for five weeks in mid-January.

In March the team returned to Charleston to work as tutors at middle schools in the north end of the city. This project suited Mack well, as she wants to become a teacher in the future.

Throughout her ten months in the program, Mack was rarely away from her teammates. This, however, was not a bother to Nani who was raised and still lives with her large, closely-knit family.

Nani's father and uncle are brothers and her mother and aunt are sisters. The two couples came to Peninsula coast from Germany after a visit with her grandmother, who already lived in Ocean Park. After the migration, they built a large house next to the grandmother's and started a family. Nani's parents had her and two brothers while her aunt and uncle also had a girl and two boys. Eventually, the families started a contracting business called Mack Brothers and Sons, Inc., which continues to build on the Peninsula.

"I have two moms and dads all the time. When my mom isn't there, my aunt steps in," said Mack of her family who still all live in the same three-story home in Ocean Park.

Mack's final project for the NCCC came in mid-June and took her to Birmingham, Ala., where the group helped build a house for Outreach Inc. The program is along the same lines as Habitat for Humanity, except in this case the future owner of the house pays for it.

Because her family owns a contractor business, this experience gave her the opportunity to learn the trade, "I, sadly enough, growing up with my dad, hardly did any construction," said Mack, "So I learned so much more. It was fun to talk to my dad and be like, 'Hey, I'm putting up OSB boards today', and they'll be that connection all of a sudden."

Following the project, the team headed back to Charleston for a debriefing and graduation.

Overall, Mack found her adventures in the South to be good ones. She keeps a scrap book documenting every step of her trip, including every project and every teammate. Although some of the experiences were more enlightening than others, "They deep fry everything down there. I swear if they could fry Cool-Whip, they would."

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