After graduating from East Central College, Spencer Neptune of Washington wasn’t quite sure where he saw his future.
Rather than spinning his wheels in college without a sure path, Neptune applied for AmeriCorps, and now spends his days helping with the Hurricane Sandy cleanup in Fort Dix, N.J.
“I pursued this program because I went to ECC on the A+ program and was very unsure about what to do for my bachelor’s degree,” he said in a phone interview with The Missourian.
“I didn’t want to start wasting money before I was certain. (AmeriCorps) seemed like a proactive way to take a break from the school and think about what I want to do with my future,” he added.
Neptune said the original plan was for his AmeriCorps crew to travel to Brooklyn, but they were rerouted. As for what’s next, he still isn’t sure.
“If we’ve been taught one thing since the program started it’s to be flexible because this is a very selfless program,” he said.
Prior to leaving for Fort Dix, Neptune worked in Denton, Texas, at a Federal Emergency Management Agency regional office doing closeout work for Hurricane Ike, at a children’s museum in Iowa and in Anniston, Ala., training at the Center for Disease Prevention.
He trained for a month at the AmeriCorps main campus in Vinton, Iowa
In New Jersey, Neptune said he does various work wherever needed, ranging from helping people apply for FEMA assistance, to going door to door to check on people in disaster zones.
Neptune and his team of 12 work long hours, sometimes 10 hours per day, seven days per week.
“It can be testing, but I am confident these efforts will help me grow into the individual I want to become,” he said. “I know my efforts are important because every day I meet survivors with good and bad stories and attitudes, but it changes you inside when you listen to their stories and do all in your power to help these people.
“Not everyone is pleased with the outcome, but for the ones I do help, it makes all the difference and reminds me why I’m here.”
Neptune said AmeriCorps has taught him what disaster relief organizations do for people, as well as flexibility and selflessness.
“There aren’t many things as humbling as talking to someone who has just lost everything they own and care about, and seeing that they’re still standing on their own two feet and haven’t given up,” he said. “The experience is truly inspiring, and the people I have met will stay with me forever.”
Neptune noted the difference in watching disasters on television and actually seeing the devastation firsthand.
“The first time a survivor broke down in tears while telling me their story was when I really knew why I was here,” he said. “It really makes you value everything you have.”
Neptune also values the friendships he’s made in the program, which he said will last a lifetime, as well as the opportunity to travel.
“I’ve been from the cornfields of Iowa to the foothills of the Appalachians in Alabama, to flat music cities of Texas, to the bright lights of New York, and everywhere inbetween traveling in our 15-passenger van,” he said.
Neptune is on a team of 12, including the team lead. There are about 220 people in the Iowa program, all broken into teams of eight to 12.
There is another campus of NCCC FEMA Corps out of Vicksburg, Miss., and Neptune was in one of two inaugural FEMA Corps classes.
The conventional AmeriCorps NCCC program focuses on a number of things, ranging from environmental work to infrastructure improvement in poverty areas, Neptune explained. NCCC FEMA Corps works directly with disasters, both natural and man-made.
Neptune is the son of Sherry and Joe Schneider, Washington, and Richard Neptune, Dayton, Ohio.
He is a 2009 graduate of Washington High School and a 2012 graduate of East Central College.