From Americorps to Cape Cod

Three alumni credit AmeriCorps for giving them a start in their professional careers.

By Bill O’Neill | Photography by Dan Cutrona

They came, they served, and—in some cases—they stayed to serve some more.

Each fall, about 32 young people from across the United States spend 10 months as team members with AmeriCorps Cape Cod. A national community-service program, AmeriCorps is often referred to as the “Domestic Peace Corps.” It started in 1994 and came to Cape Cod in 1999. Since then, more than 400 team members have supported local communities through their work in one of AmeriCorps Cape Cod’s four focus areas: natural resource management; disaster preparedness and response; education; and volunteer engagement.

About a third of the alumni have stayed on the Cape for at least a year or two, and about one in 10 has settled here, giving the Cape the ongoing gift of their talents and commitment to community.

We spoke with three AmeriCorps alumni to learn about their time in AmeriCorps and why they decided to stay on Cape Cod.

Amy Kukulya

Age 39, born and raised in Sayreville, N.J.
AmeriCorps Cape Cod in 1999-2000

Education: Rutgers University, environmental policy

Town: Lives in Falmouth

Makes her living as: Senior engineering technician, department of applied ocean physics and engineering, at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Assignment: “I grew up watching ‘SeaQuest’ and knew I wanted a career in oceanography. I got paired up with Dale Leavitt [an aquaculture specialist]. He was a great teacher. I was working on the tidal flats and coming into the labs to do research on shellfish disease. The year I did AmeriCorps was the pioneer year on Cape Cod. There wasn’t an established program. It couldn’t have been a better opportunity for me. It got me ingrained in the Woods Hole community. That’s how I got my foot in the door with oceanography.”

Favorite memory: “My favorite part was getting up before sunrise and driving out to the P’town flats and seeing the beautiful low tides and walking out in such a peaceful landscape. Being one of only a few people out there—just being able to appreciate the environment and the landscape and Cape Cod at its core; the salty low-tide smell that I fell in love with. It was a place I knew I could call home.”

After AmeriCorps: “I had a contract at the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, doing some more shellfish disease research. I got hired as a contractor at Woods Hole in 2001. I spent two years doing zooplankton ecology research. I was introduced to engineering and technology, and I learned that I had an aptitude for that.”

In the applied ocean physics and engineering lab: Kukulya helps design autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), remote-operated underwater robots with cameras and sound detectors that are used in research and exploration. “I crossed disciplines to take my science background, my passion for the ocean and ecology, and my ability to use tools and found a niche where I could apply all the skills I’d picked up,” says Kukulya.

Valuable lessons from AmeriCorps: “I learned survival skills, going through a program where you get shelter and a small stipend for food. I learned to live off so little and found such great happiness and had such a rich, fulfilling life that year that it set a path for me to explore. By taking on risks and pushing my comfort zone that way, I ended up in engineering with no formal training. It was the birth of becoming an adult and growing up real fast and learning how to take care of yourself and how to network. That was my greatest takeaway.”

Planning to stay? “Things are really good right now in terms of technology and AUVs being hotter than ever. The applications are diverse and fun. The time is now to be in this field. I have no plans to leave any time soon because I feel like I’m just getting started doing science with AUVs. I love being on the water. I remember I bought my first boat for 25 cents from my grandfather when I was 5 years old. The next day I told him I wanted my quarter back because it was too much money. Now I’ve never not had a boat. Being on the water, going island hopping, fishing and lobstering—I’ve created a life here.”

David Quinn

Age 33, born in Newton and grew up in Waltham
AmeriCorps Cape Cod in 2007-2008

Education: Holy Cross, political science and environmental studies, and Tufts University, master’s in urban and environmental planning

Town: Lives in Falmouth

Makes a living as: Regional waste reduction coordinator, Barnstable County
Cooperative Extension

Assignment: “I had two placements. One was with a community group called Chatham Recycles, a local group with town officials, interested residents and local businesses trying to promote recycling in town. I also worked with the shellfish departments in Provincetown and Truro.”

Favorite memory: “I always loved the house dinners. Once a week, all 13 members had a house meeting and we’d rotate cooking schedules. Two people would cook a huge feast and everyone else would get to enjoy it. I remember spending the whole night laughing.”

After AmeriCorps: “My position at the county is funded through the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. My job is to work with all 15 towns on the Cape and the towns on the island on waste reduction—trash, recycling, composting. I do a lot of work helping the towns get grants to getting equipment, and I research recycling markets to help towns get the best value they can for the material that they’re collecting. The overall goal of my job is helping towns reduce their waste because it’s such an expensive thing to deal with.”

Valuable lessons from AmeriCorps: “We worked with all of the towns’ conservation departments, shellfish departments and public works on all sorts of different projects. The connections I made with town officials were huge and a big help even to this day—being able to pick up the phone and call somebody and have a history with them. And there were all sorts of random skills, little pieces of information about how the Cape runs. Learning how shellfishing works was really interesting.”

Planning to stay? “For the foreseeable future, definitely. I love the access to the outdoors. When I moved back down here, I lived in Eastham and I got into a routine of surfing every day. I grew up in the city, so it was a novel thing to me. Now I can’t imagine leaving.”

Angela Hemmila

Age 30, born in Cumberland, R.I.
AmeriCorps Cape Cod in 2007-2008

Education: Bryant University, communications major

Town: Lives in Marstons Mills

Her job: Co-owner of Solar Rising in Mashpee

Assignment: “I was assigned to Cape & Islands Self-Reliance [a nonprofit focused on energy education] where I did a little bit of everything. I also was the Junior Solar Sprint coordinator. It’s a program for middle-school students where we teach them how to build a mini racecar that runs on solar power. There was a lot of education, a lot of outreach and a lot of event planning.”

Favorite memory: “In addition to my individual placement, we had planned a COD Day – Community Outreach and Development Day. We were assigned Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The entire planning process from day one in September until MLK Day, we were racking our brains. It was awesome to see it all come together. The theme was Share the Warmth. We had school kids decorating quilt squares, then we had quilting clubs make quilts and then we presented the quilts to homeless shelters. To see it come together and make an impact in the community was great.”

After AmeriCorps: “During my individual placement, I got really interested in solar equipment because I was teaching the kids while I was learning about it myself. Someone I met had a solar business and needed help. I was thrilled I could stay because I really felt at home.”

Today: She’s the co-owner of her own solar business, and one of her employees is another former AmeriCorps worker.

Valuable lessons from AmeriCorps: “Before I was assigned to Self-Reliance, I knew very little about solar energy and now I’m part owner of a solar-installation company, so I owe my professional career to AmeriCorps. Living with 13 people, I met people from all over and became more open-minded than I was. I also learned patience, communication skills and teamwork skills. I feel like I use tidbits of AmeriCorps every day.”

Planning to stay? “Yes, definitely. Cape Cod has a little of everything. The water is right there, but there are also a lot of hiking trails. In the off-season, it’s peaceful and in the summer it’s vibrant.”

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