Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How to Be a Better Human: NCCC's Renaissance Men and Women

Four weeks of NCCC training are almost completely in the books. Our structured classes ended for good a week and a half ago; last Monday was a training on how to approach and aid people with disabilities, and then we headed off to Camp Lake Stephens to put our training to work. This week so far has mostly been loose ends and cleanup before our induction ceremony on Friday, when we become full-fledged NCCC Corps Members. (We’ll still have two weeks of FEMA training after that, but I’ll take my victories where I find ‘em.)

Looking back and taking stock, I’m struck—I was struck at the time—by how much of the training was focused on making us better, more well-rounded human beings. Traditional NCCC gives you project-specific training when you go out on spike, so I guess it makes sense that so much of the in-class training focused on the intangibles of how to live with one’s team. There were some very tangible classes—CPR/First Aid and van driving, for two—but they were far outnumbered by what I like to call the “Don’t be a dick” and “don’t be a dumbass” units.

Those are exactly what they sound like: how to live with your team and interact with others without screwing up. They were essentially reinforcing our common sense. Don’t send emails in an unprofessional manner; be courteous, polite and good-natured. Remember that what you’re doing matters, and do all you can to learn why. How to eat properly on a very low budget, conduct yourself ethically and properly, how to solve your issues with other Corps Members. Understanding and appreciating and allowing for diversity. Maintaining a high quality of life. We learned how to write in an office setting or work with the elderly or, as I mentioned, work with the disabled. There are numerous others, all equally holistic.

All of these trainings have two complementary purposes. Yes, they’re preparing us for everything we might encounter Out There in the big, disaster-hit world of spikes and sleeping in tents, and they’re teaching us how to live with the same people for nine months and not go shithouse crazy (I suspect that’ll be considerably more important than we think). But they’re also fulfilling half of that NCCC motto: “Strengthening communities, developing leaders”. The considerable investment of time and money spent on us (Americorps NCCC spent $29 million in FY2010, as an example) is expected to pay off in us. You don’t show young people the world and expect them to quit after a year; you’re recruiting the best and the brightest! We’re not supposed to do a year of NCCC and then go forget everything we’ve learned; we’re supposed to take what we’ve learned and go use it after 2012.

Yes, it’s holistic and can feel very soft at times, as if we were learning how to be namby-pamby goodie-goodies instead of spending more time on what we’re actually going to be doing. Well, that part is getting started three days from now. FEMA is holding down the job we’re actually going to do; NCCC is more invested in how we’ll do it and who we’ll be afterwards. As a practical-minded person, I’m impatient for the FEMA training to finally get here. As a participant-observer of and in the program, I’m glad to see that we get the NCCC training as well.

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