AmeriCorps volunteers help clean up Mount Hope Cemetery
Members of civil society program AmeriCorps sacrificed their Sunday afternoon to help clean up Mount Hope Cemetery, a historic cemetery with burials dating back to 1897.
Immanuel Evangelical Church, later known as Immanuel United Church of Christ, founded the cemetery and recorded its first burial in 1897, according to the St. Clair Genealogical Society.
AmeriCorps member Andy Wall said he helped coordinate the cleanup effort with the help of Mayor Mark Eckert. Wall is also a volunteer coordinator at the Franklin Neighborhood Association, a non-profit organization that serves residents and students in that neighborhood. Volunteers from Lindenwood University and citizen volunteers also chipped in.
Wall and other AmeriCorps members organized the event as part of “AmeriCorps Week,” a nationwide effort to boost volunteerism.
Belleville AmeriCorps Director Kim Vrooman said Wall took the initiative to ask the mayor what was needed in the community.
“He called the mayor and asked what we can do to help our community, and the mayor said that Mount Hope Cemetery could use a little extra help,” Vrooman said.
Vrooman, 45, of Freeburg, became the new director at the Belleville AmeriCorps earlier this year.
Eckert said the cemetery has been held in receivership for several years, though the city has helped maintain the property “out of respect for the people who are buried here,” and to prevent it from becoming an eye sore.
“It is a burden on the city, but it’s the right thing to do,” Eckert said, adding that family members of the deceased still maintain some of the plots.
Volunteers helped clear brush and fallen limbs in preparation for spring, when part-time city workers will begin to mow grass in the cemetery.
AmeriCorps is a service-oriented program where volunteers serve their community and help area students while earning a monthly stipend and money to put toward a college degree for themselves or a family member. Full-time members commit to doing 1,700 community-service hours a year. They earn a monthly stipend of about $1,200. If they complete their first full-year term, Vrooman said they get a $6,000 educational award.
AmeriCorps employs 75,000 men and women in service annually at thousands of locations across the country including nonprofits and schools, according to the organization’s website.