Hudson youth trades academia for manual laborIf Adam Zais needed a reminder of the value of a good education, he’s gotten it over the past couple of months.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
If Adam Zais needed a reminder of the value of a good education, he’s gotten it over the past couple of months.
The 20-year-old Hudson native interrupted his engineering studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison earlier this year to serve a 10-month stint with the National Civilian Community Corps, an AmeriCorps program.
For the past eight weeks, Zais has been stationed at Camp Hope in Arabi, La. The camp — a two-floor former school — is located next door to New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, still recovering from Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005.
The job of Zais’ nine-person Badger 5 team was to prepare three meals a day for the construction volunteers who came to clean up and rebuild damaged houses in the Lower Ninth and St. Bernard Parish.
At the beginning of their stay at Camp Hope, Zais’ team was serving daily meals to 300 volunteers.
“That was intense,” he said in a phone call last week. “The work really grinds on you from day to day.”
The Badger 5 team worked in two shifts to get the job done. One started at 6 a.m. and finished at 2 p.m. The other began at noon and was supposed to end at 8 p.m., but often went longer.
Now Zais is off to do “mudding” in Tennessee. He’ll be straining his back to shovel muck from houses and buildings caught in the recent flood in and around Nashville.
But despite the hard labor, Zais says he is having the time of his life.
“It’s a blast. New Orleans is an interesting place,” he said. “This is so much fun right now.”
He likes his eight teammates and enjoyed sight-seeing and running through New Orleans neighborhoods when he wasn’t in the kitchen.
Zais was a distance runner on Hudson High School cross-country and track teams before graduating in 2008.
He also was a member of the Wisconsin Track Club teams that won national cross-country championships the past two years.
It’s nice to be able to train without worrying about homework, he said. He had gotten 50 miles in the previous week.
Zais said he was lacking passion for his academic work when he met some AmeriCorps volunteers during a 2009 service trip to New Orleans.
They told him about the places they had visited and the projects they had worked on. And he learned that they were paid a living stipend and would get a $5,000 education award at the end of their service.
“It sounded just really cool. You get to travel around the country doing really interesting things — like working on houses and building trails — for 10 months,” Zais recalled.
His experience to date hasn’t disappointed him — despite the hard work.
“I’m pretty certain I’m going to go back to school. (But) not for a while,” he said. “I have to get some wanderlust out of my system.”
Zais is the son of Jeff and Patricia Zais of Hudson. He has a younger brother, Martin, who is a junior at Hudson High School.
Anyone interested in joining the National Civilian Community Corps or becoming a project sponsor is encouraged to learn more by visiting www.americorps. gov/nccc or calling (800) 942-2677.