Assists with forest fire as AmeriCorps volunteer
By Dan McDonald
For Hometown News
MELBOURNE - Lying on the ground in a sleeping bag, Alex Hunt, 23, could smell the acrid smoke of the Seeley Fire, a raging inferno that began June 26 and which has destroyed over 48,000 acres of Utah's Manti-La Sal National Forest.
But instead of panicking, Mr. Hunt, a 2007 graduate of Eau Gallie High School, closed his eyes and slept under the stars, exhausted from nearly 14 hours of clearing fire lines and removing debris from the blaze's path.
Mr. Hunt spent three weeks assisting with the massive forest fire, as part of his final project of service in AmeriCorps, a division of the Federal Government's Corporation for National and Community Service, which some liken to the Peace Corps for America.
A nationwide volunteer organization, AmeriCorps is geared toward young adults ages 18-24, which offers personal growth opportunities through team building and community service.
"There's no doubt that was the most exciting thing I've ever done," said Mr. Hunt, speaking by phone from San Francisco. "It was a great experience and one I'm sure I'll never forget."
Mr. Hunt went on to discuss the details of his training.
"We never fought the actual flames of the fire - that wasn't our job," he said. "We cut fire lines and removed dead wood that would be potential fuel. But the place where we slept on the ground the first week was burned while we were still out there working on the fire. We could smell the smoke, and at night, see the sky lit up from the flames. It was definitely an adventure."
While there were some challenges along the way, Mr. Hunt said he is happy with his decision to sign up for AmeriCorps and thankful to have been accepted.
"I had so many great experiences and met so many great people - it's a wonderful way to start out life," he said. "I think I've made contacts that will be with me forever."
For Mr. Hunt, the 10-month AmeriCorps stint, which officially ended at a July 19 ceremony in Sacramento, Calif., where he was awarded a Bronze Congressional Medal for service, almost never happened.
While a senior at the University of South Florida, majoring in speech pathology, Mr. Hunt had applied, but not yet heard from AmeriCorps. He was ready to enroll for his final college semester when he got the notice that he had been accepted.
"It was exciting to get the official acceptance," said Mr. Hunt, whose parents and younger brother, Ben, still live in Melbourne. "I realized it was my chance to serve others and to travel to other parts of the country. I'm so glad everything worked out."
During his time in AmeriCorps, Mr. Hunt handled a variety of volunteer assignments, ranging from distributing food to food banks in Oregon and carving fire breaks and removing potential fire fuel from neighborhoods in Brownsville, Calif., to strapping on firefighting gear to help control Utah's Seeley Fire, which officials speculate was started by lightning.
But watching her son volunteer to help others is not surprising to Gabriele Hunt, who says her oldest son has always been willing to help those in need.
"He's always been considerate of others and willing to help others," Mrs. Hunt said. "When he was at Eau Gallie High, he was in Boy Scout Troop No. 300, and actually became an Eagle Scout. His father and I are very proud of him."
"I can tell you he's changed - he's matured," she continued. "This experience has really had a big impact on him, and he's become a man. As a parent, it's awesome to see."
As for future plans, Mr. Hunt said he is still undecided.
As part of his completion of the AmeriCorps program, he received a $5,500 education award, which can be used to pay for student loans or for additional classes.
"I intend to go back to USF and finish my degree," he said. "I need 18 more credit hours to finish. After that, I'm going to take lessons on organic farming out in California. As for my future, I can't really say what I'll be doing."
But when it comes to AmeriCorps, Mr. Hunt said it was an experience that he will take with him, regardless of what the future has in store for him.
"(The program) really helps broaden your vision and gives you a chance to grow as a person," he said. "I'd recommend it to anyone."