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Brian Barwatt Is Serving in AmeriCorps

Many people hope to make a difference in the world — Centreville's Brian Barwatt is actually doing it. He's devoting 10 months to AmeriCorps*National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).

It's a national service program created to improve the environment, enhance education, increase public safety, address unmet human needs and assist with disaster relief. Barwatt, 24, joined in late September.

"I applied last January [2001] to AmeriCorps," he said by phone from Tennessee. "I was considering the Peace Corps, and my dad gave me some information about AmeriCorps. The whole idea appealed to me because it's a year of community service and I've had a fortunate life and want to give something back to my country."

The son of Marge and Barry Barwatt of Sequoia Farms, Barwatt is a 1995 Centreville High grad. He obtained a bachelor of science in forestry in 2000 from Virginia Tech and plans to attend grad school next year or be an AmeriCorps team leader.

AmeriCorps volunteers, ages 18-24, are assigned to campuses at Charleston, S.C.; Perry Point, Md.; Sacramento, Calif.; Washington, D.C. or Denver, Colo. Barwatt was sent to Charleston as part of 24 teams of 12 people each.

"We had a month of training and did community-service projects in Charleston," he said. "We worked at Good Will, helped rebuild and paint a community park and its playground and worked with kids — we put on a circus to entertain them."

Then Barwatt's team went to Fort Myers, Fla., for seven weeks, helping Habitat for Humanity construct homes. The volunteers worked on seven houses, and Barwatt's group built one from the ground up — including the walls, windows, roof, siding and insulation.

"I hadn't done any carpentry work, but they taught us how to do everything," he said. "It was awesome because we got to work [alongside] the families who were moving into the homes, and they were the nicest people." The best part, said Barwatt, was "getting to use my new skills and help the community, at the same time."

Now his team is in Caryville, Tenn., building the Cumberland Trail. Some 300 miles of it run through Tennessee, and the volunteers are filling in a one-mile gap in the last section. "They give us rakes and picks and we clear brush, cut down trees and build trails in an environmentally sound way so there's no erosion," explained Barwatt. "It's fun — I love being outdoors."

Former Pres. Bill Clinton started AmeriCorps, now in its eighth year. Volunteers receive three weeks training emphasizing teamwork, service, leadership and communication. In exchange for at least 1,700 hours service, they receive $4,725 toward their education. For more information, call 1-800-942-2677 or visit the Web site, www.americorps.org.

Barwatt will complete his stint in late July and hopes to use his money toward grad school. Overall, he's thrilled to have had this experience.

"Living with 12 people for 10 months can be challenging," he said. "But they're all great because they're of the same mindset as I am — giving back to the community. At the end of the 10 months, I'll walk away with the desire to continue volunteering in other programs — and I'll definitely tell other people about this one."