After seven years in a preschool, 13 years in an elementary school and another year working in a child development center, Mace was ready for a change.
“I still love the kids but I was ready to stretch my skills a little more and be challenged in a different direction. I joined because it looked fun,” Mace said, “I joined because of the friendships I made while interacting with the Americorps members.“
Americorps is a branch of national service that evolved out of the conservation corps after World War II and was signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. It has been likened to the Peace Corps but with service focused at home in the United States. Nonprofits, schools and government agencies can receive 1700 hours of service for a fee. Members receive a monthly stipend and can only serve for four years. At the end of the second and fourth year they are eligible for an educational award. All volunteers are certified in CPR and First Aid, have received CERT training and know how to use an AED.
“We’re client based,” Mace said. “We’re not allowed to do secretarial work or take the position of a paid employee. We go into nonprofits, schools and government agencies with a focus on projects.”
The year starts in September for Americorps members. In August of 2012, Mace walked into the office that belonged to the Program Director of the Cowlitz chapter of Americorps and told her, “This is fantastic. This is what I want to do. I want to work in Wahkiakum County.”
She was told there were no assignments in Wahkiakum County.
“This is Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Americorps, right?” Mace recollects saying. “You’ve got to have a spot, because I want one.”
She spent her first year of service at Kelso High School helping in the career center, educating students about scholarships and the FAFSA, making sure they were on track to graduate and helping them get their senior projects done. While there, she developed a math tutor program that has been picked up by LCC and will continue as an after school program.
Which would be exactly the point, if you asked Sue Cameron of Health and Human Services, who worked for VISTA when she was just starting out in the seventies.
“Her job,” Cameron said, “is to come in and build a system that will function after she is gone.”
While at Kelso, Mace was also forging connections in Wahkiakum County, hoping to create opportunities for service assignments at home. The trail between Angle Street and the Pioneer Church got a makeover due to her tenacity, the right connections and a lot of help from Americorps members.
And it was that same tenacity, work ethic and commitment to service that got her an assignment here in Wahkiakum County, so close to home and the community she loves.
“We’ve been very lucky to get Sheila,” Cameron said. “She’s a real spirit that wanted to have an effect locally and in a positive way. She is a great representative for Americorps. We’re thrilled to have her.”
Mace currently works out of the Wahkiakum Health and Human Services as a support to the Hunger Relief Task Force, a project started by County Commissioner Mike Backman to address hunger and food insecurity in the county. She has been working on surveys with the food banks and their clients, trying to determine the extent of the hunger problem. She is also working on a survey to ascertain the need for a food bank in the Westend. She has been providing food banks with recipes, important cooking information and food safety for their clients as well as practical items like meat thermometers. She is organizing volunteers and planning a school garden, hoping the project will raise money, provide fresh produce for the food bank and hungry schoolchildren while teaching local youth to garden.
“I’m trying to figure out where the holes are,” Mace said, “so the Hunger Relief Task Force can figure out how to plug them.”
If her tenacity, drive and generous spirit are anything to go by, the Hunger Relief Task Force is off to a good start.