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Ian Kite, left, Mary Gill, center, and Claudia Mourino help turn the former Richfield Community Church into the Lincoln County Youth Center on Wednesday, June 23. They’re three of eight AmeriCorp volunteers assigned to the project.

Growing up in western Massachusetts, Claudia Maurino had never given much thought to Idaho. Specifically, as she puts it, she had thought about the Gem State “maybe seven times” in her life.

That changed abruptly in March, when Maurino and seven of her fellow AmeriCorps members learned they would be calling Lincoln County home for the next 10 weeks. Three months later, Maurino and her team have become well-acquainted with all things Idaho. They’ve also become intimately acquainted with the former Richfield Community Church, which they’ve spent their days converting into the new Lincoln County Youth Center, and the community surrounding it.

“It’s a great experience to grow and learn more about communities you’re not from,” said team leader Mary Gill.

Richfield was the third and final destination for the team of eight, which previously spent months rebuilding homes in southwestern Louisiana and working with FEMA to help vaccinate Californians in Los Angeles. Some of the team members, who ranged in age from 18 to 24, joined AmeriCorps to gain career or leadership experience after graduating from high school or college; others, like Maurino, saw it as a safe opportunity to travel during a pandemic.

“The main undercurrent is a need to serve, a need to give back,” said Stefan Lunte, 23, who grew up in Texas.

The team learned they would be serving in Lincoln County about a week before packing up and heading to Richfield. For many, it was the first time they had visited Idaho.

Nineteen-year-old Colin Smith of Milwaukee said he was struck at first by how remote the area was.

“I thought, oh wow, it’s kind of far away from stuff,” Smith said.

Driving into Idaho meant driving through a windstorm on a gray and cloudy day. But when the storm passed and the clouds cleared away, the beauty of the local landscape was brought into clear view—and then community members began arriving with food. In the first week, the team members estimate, people dropped off meals for the volunteers at least twice a day.

“People are so friendly and nice,” Maurino said.

In the weeks since they’ve arrived, the Americorps members have tackled a wide range of projects across the county. They’ve built garden beds for senior citizens in Shoshone and painted a pavilion in Richfield, cleaned up a highway in Dietrich, constructed a new ag shop for Richfield high schoolers and helped to clean a trailer at the sheriff’s office’s shooting range. They’ve also done extensive work on the youth center building, painting it from the inside out, fixing the roof, and putting in new flooring. Along the way, they’ve made friends around town, getting their first taste of mud-bogging—a sort of drag racing through mud—and becoming staples at a Zumba class in downtown Shoshone.

They’ve also gotten a firsthand glimpse into how their work on the youth center will benefit the children of Lincoln County. Earlier this month, Maurino led a “Shakespeare in the Park” drama camp for kids across the county. For Maurino, a theater major in college, learning that not all schools in Lincoln County have the budget for theater, music or art programs hit particularly close to home.

“I’m just really excited to see what this place is going to become,” Maurino said. “I think it’s going to be really meaningful for a lot of children.”

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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