Chris Neukom’s employment history is so diverse, even his closest associates have trouble keeping the facts straight. “My fiancée said she couldn’t figure me out until she took a look at my résumé,” Neukom says. She could be forgiven. In the last 15 years, Neukom has cooked for a chalet in the Italian Dolomites, fought forest fires in Flagstaff and framed houses in New Orleans.
But it’s his current job with AmeriCorps that best illustrates his passion for social justice, the seeds of which were planted during his undergraduate experience at Xavier. Neukom is a Denver-based assistant project director for AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps. (The organization is loosely based on the Civilian Conservation Corps of President Roosevelt’s New Deal.) As such, he helps design programs to meet community needs in eight states.
In 1995, Neukom was a senior at Xavier and active in campus peace and justice organizations when he noticed a small advertisement in the Xavier Newswire for a new community service program called AmeriCorps. He called the number and requested an informational packet be mailed to him. (It was the pre-Internet era, after all.)
Six months after graduating, Neukom became a Corps member. During his 10-month service, he trained as a wildland firefighter in Arizona, built trails in Oregon and worked on earthquake preparedness in San Francisco, among other projects. He liked it so much he came back the following year to become a team leader.
“I felt like someone created this for me,” Neukom says. “I was able to do things that I never thought I could do.”
AmeriCorps remains an excellent opportunity for young people interested in community service, says Neukom, who just celebrated his 10th year with the program.
AmeriCorps is open to 18-24 year olds, and comes with a $5,350 educational award, a small stipend, and room and board.
“Sometimes that could be a tent out in the woods,” Neukom says, but it’s worth it. “It’s an unbelievable way to give back to your community while you’re figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life,” he says.
For Neukom, that journey was also a destination. “It’s easily one of the best decisions I’ve made,” he says. “It’s led to my life’s work.”