I have lots I want to share about my experience as a HistoriCorps volunteer. But before I share tons of photos, the project I was part of and my specific experience, I want to share the process of becoming a HistoriCorps volunteer, make recommendations for selecting a project and give you an idea of what to expect.
You know from my teaser post that the mission of HistoriCorps is to preserve historically significant buildings and structures. They work throughout the US (and in 2020, there was a project in Puerto Rico), though it seems like the majority of their projects are in the west.
Accommodations on Projects
In a general way, I’d say projects fall into three categories, in terms of the location and whether or not they are a good match for an RVer.
If you watched the trailer I included with the overview post, you get the idea that many of the projects are quite remote. That’s true. Even if the site is one you can drive to, most volunteers will pitch tents.
However, if your RV is set up for boondocking, many of those places are RV accessible. By the looks of the projects, I’d say most fall into this category where the description says “tents and small-medium RVs.”
You will need blocks and levelers to level the RV as the area won’t have been prepped for RVs so likely won’t be even. If you have a large RV, you’ll have to ask those who’ve been to the area about whether you’d be a good fit. From pictures, I’d say the issue isn’t the space you take up in a large RV since many buildings are surrounded by lots of open space but, more likely, the rough terrain you may encounter getting to the site. And rough terrain is harder wear and tear on a long large RV than a more compact one.
A few projects fall into the second category of being so remote that an RV or any vehicles are not an option. Those are the projects where volunteers hike in. It takes special kind of people to take on these projects. Fit, hardy, tough, not afraid to go days without a shower. I am not one of those people, though I certainly envy and admire them.
Then, the third category is the category that my project fell into. And they don’t come along very often. That is, the project is close to resources like a town or campground. In the case of the project I was on, the building we were preserving was only one-third of a mile walk from a campground. So, we stayed at the campground. The campground included a bathhouse, electric hookups and water spigots. We were living in luxury!
Is a HistoriCorps Volunteer a Workamper?
If you are an RVer, this is probably the most important question you want the answer to. The answer is not as simple as yes or no. Let me explain.
Is HistoriCorps volunteering and workamping the same thing? Technically, yes. Workamping, to most RVers, means working in exchange for a site. HistoriCorps projects offer you a place to put the RV. However, practically speaking, I would say it is not workamping. When I think of the definition of workamping that most RVers use, I think of exchanging 20-25 hours per week of my time for a nice campground site with full hookups, or at least electric and water.
As I said, most HistoriCorps projects will not include hookups. Further, HistoriCorps volunteering is closer to really working in terms of hours. They are full days, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. On the other hand, most workamping assignments require a minimum of a one-month commitment, many assignments require multiple-month commitments. HistoriCorps volunteering, however, is by the week. And the workweek at that.
It isn’t really what most of us think as workamping and, in fact, it’s why I think HistoriCorps isn’t well known in the RVing community.
The bottom line, to me, is that HistoriCorps volunteering and workamping are apples and oranges. Both are fruit and both are good, but they are very different from one another.
Where to Start
Okay, after you understand the accommodations and the work schedule, if you want to volunteer, I recommend going to their website and signing up for the newsletter. Otherwise it can be hard to remember to check on the website for new projects.
I don’t recommend getting on their email list lightly. I know how utterly annoying some companies can be once they have captured your email address. HistoriCorps isn’t one of those that will fill your email with a bunch of nonsense. They are, however, a nonprofit so in addition to relying on volunteer labor, they also rely on monetary donations. In other words, you will occasionally get “please donate” emails. But for the most part, the emails will highlight upcoming projects.
Projects primarily take place between March and October, so don’t expect to hear too much during the winter months. You only have to look at a season’s calendar to get a good idea of the type of projects they do. Even watching the couple minute documentary trailer gives you a lot of insight. But let me give you a little more detailed information.
It’s about building preservation. But generally, the scope of a project is dialed down to a single focus such as reroofing, scrape and paint, stabilizing a foundation, replacing logs, re-chinking, etc. Buildings that need lots of work might include projects over multiple years focusing on a different aspect each year.
The other type of project that isn’t about the building preservation is helping with the assessment of a building. These don’t come up too often and, from what I’ve seen, generally are only a couple of days. They called this AHP or Architectural History Program. Volunteers photograph, measure, investigate and make recommendations regarding a specific structure. There was one such assignment very near me that I was interested in but the dates coincided with the project I’d already signed up for so it wasn’t an option.
Even though it wasn’t an official AHP project listed on the website and since on my crew was someone with a certificate in historic preservation, a few members of the group went to Pump House on the Soderberg Ranch to assess it as a possible future HistoriCorps project. Thanks to Melissa Gardener for the two photos below.
Picking a HistoriCorps Project
If you are up for boondocking, you will most likely have the most projects to choose from. Here are ways you might choose:
- by location
- type of work you’ll be doing
- personal interest in the history of a particular structure
- tools you will use and the skills you will learn
Or, if you are interested in historical preservation, you might select a project on your love of a particular type of preservation.
Now, I’ve mentioned historical preservation a few times. Let me pause here to say a word about that. Until I started following HistoriCorps, I’d never even heard the term. Certainly, never knew it was a thing. And definitely didn’t know there are certificate programs all the way up to PhD programs in that field of study. If my experience is any indication, quite a few folks with this interest and degree end up on projects. In my two weeks, I worked with a recent graduate of a certificate program as well as someone who’d just received his master’s degree in architecture and historic preservation.
So, after the projects are posted for the year and you find one that is a good fit for you and works for your schedule, I recommend applying as soon as possible. My experience, of course, took place during COVID so all jobs were limited to six volunteers. But I have to assume that normally all jobs have a volunteer cap because there are only so many supplies and so much room around buildings to work safely.
Unlike other workamping jobs, HistoriCorps fills their positions on a “first come, first serve” basis. Workamping opportunities, in my opinion, are easier once you have a relationship with the entity hiring. I think if an entity knows you, knows you are a good and hard and reliable worker, you will get the job over someone who applied before you. Which is why those first assignments can be hard to come by. That’s just my theory based on my experience trying to get my foot in the door with various states’ workamping programs (so far, I’ve only broken into the Oregon program). So, the great news is if you are a first-time applier with HistoriCorps, apply early and you have a good chance of getting the position. Most of my fellow volunteers were first timers.
You will have to complete an application for every position you want. Even though I only worked on one project, I wanted to work for two of the four week-long sessions. This meant I completed two applications.
Skill Level and Job Types
One of the greatest things about volunteering with HistoriCorps is that they don’t require any construction or the like experience. So even if you never climbed on a roof or hammered a nail, you are still welcome for jobs that require climbing on a roof or hammering nails. They will teach you everything you need to know on the job.
Everyone who applies for a project works on the project as a whole. In other words, everyone on a project has the same job description.
With one exception.
In each session of each project, there is one position for the job of Kitchen Helper. I learned that although HistoriCorps projects go back more than 10 years, the Kitchen Helper has only been added in the last couple of years.
I, as it turned out, applied for the Kitchen Helper position for both sessions. I’ll tell you more about it when I do the post about my experience. In fact, one of the reasons I discovered positions with HistoriCorps are “first come, first serve” is because during my second session, one woman told me she applied for Kitchen Helper but I’d already filled the position.
Reality of Being a HistoriCorps Volunteer
Before any work starts on the first day, there is an orientation, mainly focused on safety. What I loved about the orientation was they build in their philosophy and attitude toward volunteers.
They clearly state things like it is okay to say you aren’t comfortable doing a particular task. Maybe you are afraid of heights so would prefer not to climb onto scaffolding. They say you will never be made to feel bad for asking how to do something. If you have never hammered a nail before, one of the crew members will show you how without making you feel dumb or inadequate. If not assigned to a particular tool but you have an interest in learning about it or trying it out, they encourage you to ask. They trust that you know yourself best so if you need to take multiple breaks to drink water or to catch your breath, that’s okay.
And while it can be easy to say these things, my experience absolutely proved them to be true. Each project has a project supervisor and a crew leader. If my two were any indication of the staff as a whole (and I think they were), they really do stand behind the philosophy above. I felt completely comfortable asking questions and asking for help.
In other words, don’t feel too intimidated to apply.
Another aspect I haven’t mentioned yet of volunteering is that all of your meals are provided by HistoriCorps. I cannot emphasis enough how wonderful this is. After a long day of physical labor plus sleeping on the ground in a tent (for most volunteers), the last thing a person wants to think about is cooking. And most tent campers don’t come with the equipment to make full meals.
HistoriCorps sets up a cook tent at each site and makes hot, fresh and yummy meals for the crew. I think my experience was pretty typical and it included a hot breakfast with lots of coffee and a hot dinner. After breakfast, crew members makes their own sandwiches (from a variety of lunchmeats, hummus, cheeses and vegetables) to take to the worksite for lunch. Additionally, at the worksite, there were things like chips, fruit and snacks. When I tell you about my specific experience as Kitchen Helper, I will share my role in all of this.
Frequent comments about the meals told me the volunteers truly appreciated the effort to keep them well-fed with nutritious filling food. As part of the application process, you let HistoriCorps know about any food allergies as well as other considerations. During my two weeks, we had a vegetarian (that was me!), multiple people who were gluten free and one person allergic to peppers. They have experience making accommodations so it ended up being no big deal at all.
Prior to your work week, you will get emails with information regarding your specific assignment. In general, you need long pants, work boots and work gloves. They provide everything else such as hard hats, ear plugs, safety goggles, etc. My project included scrapping out old material between the stones of a house and replacing it with new. Because the job was really messy, they provided us with disposable work gloves so we wouldn’t destroy our nice work gloves.
At the job site, they also provided water and sun screen. As well, a little tent for breaks was set up so volunteers could be shaded. Now, obviously, that was specific to my job since it was in the 80s, sunny and hot. But it gives you an idea of how volunteer-focused they are.
I hope this gives you an overview of what the volunteering for HistoriCorps is like, how to choose projects to apply for and what the experience will be like. As I said, this post provides big picture, general information. Next week I’ll share about the history of the project I was part of and the following week I’ll tell you all about my specific experience as a HistoriCorps volunteer.
Links to Relevant Posts:
- HistoriCorps Workamping
- Workamping: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How
- My First Workamping Experience
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