Pitching in to make a difference: AmeriCorps volunteers at Quinipet
It wasn’t hard to figure out what Allene Shapiro, Jake Balinsky and Naomi Brown had been doing all morning. As they greeted a guest on a porch at Quinipet Camp & Retreat Center, the toes of their identical black boots were white, and there was some white on their uniform khaki pants.
“I think I even have some in my hair,” Ms. Shapiro, 22, said with a smile.
The AmeriCorps volunteers had been painting cabins for the opening of the camp in June. Part of a team of eight, with Ms. Brown, 24, as their team leader, they had been living and working at the camp since March 7 and will complete their work on March 31.
They have been hard at work cleaning out cabins in addition to painting them, and constructing an outdoor classroom for the summer. Part of their mission is environmental work, and the team of young volunteers has been rooting out invasive vegetative species at the camp.
“It’s been great being here,” Mr. Balinsky, 20, said. “Shelter Island is a really tight knit community. It’s a beautiful place.”
AmeriCorps, or officially named the Corporation for National and Community Service, is a federal agency created in 1993, with a mission statement “to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering.”
Open to volunteers 18 to 26, AmeriCorps has different wings, one of them being the National Civilian Community Corps, which includes the volunteers at Quinipet. For a 10-month commitment to aid communities and nonprofits in infrastructure and environmental projects, the volunteers get a living allowance of about $4,000, room and board, uniforms, training and an opportunity to earn up to nine college credits.
Mr. Balinsky, from Stamford, Conn. — “Really close, but I had no idea Shelter Island existed” — spent a year at the University of Tampa but concluded, “I needed a break. I wanted to do something hands on,” he said. He joined AmeriCorps. “I love it.”
Ms. Shapiro, from Manassas, Va., is a 2022 graduate of Virgina Commonwealth University taking degrees in political science and anthropology. She heard about AmeriCorps from a friend. “I wanted to do something in conservation, to give back, and this has been a perfect fit,” she said.
Part of the experience is the satisfaction of helping communities, but it’s also been rewarding on a personal level, said Ms. Brown, 24, who is from Ohio. She spoke of truly getting to know the people you’re working and living with, sharing nearly everything. “We live together, we travel together, there’s a real bonding with each other,” she said.
Executive Director of Quinipet Brooke Bradley said the Camp responded to a general invitation to apply for AmeriCorps volunteers, a first for the camp. “But not the last,” Ms. Bradley said. “They’re accomplishing an unbelievable number of tasks.”
Quinipet opens for overnight campers on June 25 for eight weeks, and the day camp opens on June 26 for nine weeks. Ms. Brooke said a record number of children will be attending this summer. Even though it’s under the aegis of the Methodist faith, the camp is open to all, Ms. Brooke said.
“Children attend from New York City, and all across Long Island, and we also have campers and staff members from around the world,” she added. “We’re strongly committed to serving children from under-resourced communities, providing transportation from select churches in New York City and we’re expanding a day-camp initiative in partnership with United Methodist churches.”
Ms. Brooke said Quinipet works with the Shinnecock Nation and Shelter Island School to make camp possible for children who could not attend otherwise. “We want to especially thank School Nurse Mary Kanarvogel for working with us so that local children can come to camp, and to the Lions Club for their support,” she said.
The AmeriCorps team has become enchanted by Quinipet, and its stunning location on a high hill above the bay. According to Ralph G. Duvall’s “History of Shelter Island,” it had been the landing for the North Ferry in 1800. The 27-acre property was owned for many years in the 19th century by Morancey P. Jennings, and the area was known as Jennings Point, with the point still having that designation.
In the early 1880s, John N. Sterans, a New York City silk manufacturer, bought the property and built a fine house on the grounds, as well as several cabins for friends and family. Five enormous boulders define the top of the hill, and provided the name that Mr. Stearns gave to his estate, Quinipet, from Greek and Latin words meaning five rocks. According to Duvall’s history, in 1922 two camps were established, Quinipet for boys, and Dr. Pettit’s Camp for Girls.
In 1947, the property was bought by the New York East Conference of the Methodist Church, which still owns and operates the camp.
The AmeriCorps volunteers have ventured out and around Shelter Island, visiting with other leaders of nonprofits, including Mashomack, and have attended events at the library.
They wrap up their work at Quinipet on March 31, and then are off to their next project the following day. Boarding their 15-passenger-seat van, they head for Columbia Falls, Maine, near the Canadian border, to work to restore blueberry fields that have been overtaken as tourist attractions, Ms. Brown said.
“Can’t wait,” Ms. Shapiro said, adding they truly enjoyed their brief time on the Island.