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Fort Wayne resident Zach Huneck far left, spent six weeks assisting victims of Hurricane Sandy while completing the national service program.

South Side, IPFW grad enraptured by AmeriCorps work

A Fort Wayne man who just spent 10 months working on service projects around the country, including helping victims of Hurricane Sandy, said the experience was life changing.

Zachary Huneck, 24, graduated from the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps service program in July and will return next month for another 10 months, this time serving as a team leader.

Huneck was one of nearly 500 who completed more than half a million hours of service and 275 projects, including 78 disaster recovery projects.

During their term, Corps members – all 18 to 24 years old – work on projects that address critical needs related to natural and other disasters including infrastructure improvement, environmental stewardship, energy conservation, infrastructure improvement and urban and rural development.

A graduate of South Side High School, Huneck continued his education and graduated from IPFW in 2012, majoring in history and international studies.

Huneck then got involved in the Corps, arriving in Denver in October at one of five national Corps campuses. After receiving training, he and a team of 10 traveled to four states, where they worked on various community projects – each lasting five to 10 weeks.

Although all four projects had merit, after spending six weeks in New York City helping victims of Hurricane Sandy, Huneck quickly decided it was the most gratifying project.

The group worked with the American Red Cross as caseworkers, helping displaced hurricane victims in a move and assistance program, Huneck said.

“That was definitely the most rewarding project,” Huneck said.

“With the other projects we knew what we were doing was making a difference, but working with the hurricane victims, we actually came to know and meet the people we were helping,” Huneck said. “Everyone was very appreciative of what we were doing.”

While in Texas, Huneck and his group worked on an environmental project which included removing saltcedar shrubs, he said.

Saltcedar is a highly invasive shrub that has been blamed for reduced water supplies and severely shrinking the habitat and population of many native fish and wildlife species.

“We removed about 7,000 of the saltcedar trees during the five weeks we were there,” Huneck said.

As a side project, Huneck and the others also built an enclosure for an African tortoise for the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas.

“We were fortunate with the weather,” Huneck said. “That part of the state was having a cold spell and it was only in the eighties while we were there.”

Huneck’s teams also worked for 10 weeks in two Arkansas state parks doing general maintenance and later spent eight weeks in Kansas, building a community park from the ground up, he said.

In exchange for their service, Corps members receive $5,500 to help pay for college or student loans. Program applicants undergo a screening process and phone interview before being accepted into the program.

The time spent as a Corps member may have changed the course of Huneck’s life.

“Working on these projects has given me so many more options and exposure” to other areas of need, Huneck said.

Huneck is now thinking of a career as a park ranger.

Even though Huneck said he “has no idea” where he will be or what he will be doing next year after completing his next assignment as a team leader, he hopes to again serve the Corps as a leader for an education-related project.

“I’m still exploring my options,” he said, “but this has been such a great opportunity.”