Suffolk native serves disaster victims

Published 10:34 pm Wednesday, January 25, 2017

By Allison T. Williams

Special to the Suffolk News-Herald

When he graduated from Nansemond River High School in 2014, Cristopher McKenzie wanted to learn a trade — and see the world.

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So he enrolled in Job Corps, a residential education and job-training program for youth between the age of 16 and 24. The nationwide program, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, provides classroom instruction and hands-on experience in dozens of occupations.

Through Job Corps, McKenzie spent 10 months becoming a certified computer technician in 2015.

When he graduated, he signed up for a 10-month stint in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, a national volunteer program. Most volunteers typically log 1,700 hours of service during about 11 months, after which they are typically eligible for a $5,750 educational grant.

“One of the main reasons I did this was so I would have an opportunity to step back, enjoy life, see new places and help people,” McKenzie said. “I think AmeriCorps has matured me.”

In recent months, McKenzie’s AmeriCorps team has lent a hand at several tragedies around the southeastern United States.

In early December, McKenzie’s group was deployed to Gatlinburg, Tenn., where raging wildfires scorched 15,000 acres, destroying 700 buildings and killing seven.

Earlier in the fall, he was in Louisiana and North Carolina helping victims escape and recover from Hurricane Matthew and floods.

In addition to disaster relief, McKenzie has also helped restore and build homes for Habitat for Humanity in Meridian, Miss.

“This experience has really opened my eyes,” McKenzie said. “It’s made me see there is a lot of good in people.

“When we were registering volunteers in Tennessee, I was amazed to see that people from all over the United States had dropped everything and driven across the country to see what they could do to help people they don’t know,” McKenzie said. “I would never have imagined a turnout like this before this experience.”

When he returns home to Suffolk, McKenzie plans to go to college to pursue computer science in the medical field.