Cumberland woman travels country helping others

Cumberland woman travels country helping others

Megan Conery, of Cumberland, worked on Camp 4-H in Little Rock, Ark. during her 10 months as part of the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps. She also spent time working in Colorado and Texas.

CUMBERLAND - Those who know Megan Conery best would describe her as a homebody, she said, preferring to spend most of her time at her Cumberland house around family.

But after this past year of moving around the country, helping the disabled learn to ski and students in Houston's poorest neighborhood learn about the value of school and community, even she may want to rethink how she sees herself.

Conery, 23, worked for the nonprofit AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps for 10 months, from Oct. 2012 through the end of July. She was stationed in Denver, but spent time living and working at four different posts across America.

First was Little Rock, Ark., where the group kept up with maintenance and built bridges at a 4-H camp. Her favorite was her second post, where she worked as a ski instructor at the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colo.

Then she headed to Houston, where she worked as a tutor and library organizer for the poorest school in the country in the poorest neighborhood in the city. Generation One provided a private school setting to families while simultaneously working to rehabilitate the neighborhoods in the Third Ward, where Conery lived during her stay.

Her last post was in Fort Collins, Colo., which is still trying to get back on track after forest fires tore through the area a year ago.

Conery was among the NCCC workers to build sheds donated by the American Red Cross, as well as record a how-to video for volunteers to use in the future.

"The actual experience itself can't be put into words," Conery said. "I definitely think it was a very positive experience for me."

Conery, daughter of Fred and Mary Conery, graduated from Mount St. Charles Academy in 2008. It was there that she said she first got her taste of community service, exceeding the required number of volunteer hours she had to complete each year.

She attended University of Massachusetts Amherst and designed her own major, earning a bachelor's degree in her individual concentration of civic engagement and expressive arts therapy.

Those specific subject areas came together in one of Conery's favorite memories of her trip.

She was working with a student in Winter Park, Colo., who was her age with a developmental disorder. He had been skiing without poles for the past 10 years, making his way down the mountain with his toes pointed inwards to make a wedge shape.

Conery said the goal was to get him to eventually separate the skis and keep his feet parallel, moving side to side as he made his way down the slopes.

She and another instructor came up with a plan to ski on either side of the student and alternate asking him for high fives. The plan worked, and without even realizing it, he was executing a skill more than a decade in the making.

Conery remembers him skiing fast down the mountain with the sun shining.

"He has a smile on his face," she remembered. "This is my job."

Conery was paid a stipend for her work, and expenses like housing, food, uniforms and transportation were provided. At the conclusion of the program, she received a $5,550 education award to be used for anything education related, from student loans to graduate classes.

She plans to get involved with the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, a professional organization that brings together nonprofit organizations. Her AmeriCorps work counts as the internship requirement, so she is just a class or two away from becoming recognized as a nonprofit professional, which she said she will use as a "door-opener."

In working toward her master's degree in social work through another AmeriCorps program, she will stay in Rhode Island for the next year, working at the Providence Children's Museum.

"I would really like to work with kids in a social work setting," she said. "Bringing whatever the need is to under-privileged children is the goal for me."

As is staying in the nonprofit sector, she said.

"It makes me feel like I have a purpose and I'm doing something productive for someone else."

Megan Conery, 23, returned home at the end of July after spending 10 months traveling the country with AmeriCorps, a group that enabled her to tutor students in Houston's Third Ward, teach disabled individuals to ski, and provide maintenance help to communities in Colorado and Arkansas. (VALLEY BREEZE PHOTO BY MEGHAN KAVANAUGH)