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On Thursday, young Americans from dozens of states saw Iowa for the first time as they entered the AmeriCorps NCCC program at the Iowa Braille and Sight-Saving School (IBSSS) campus.

The 181 new Vinton residents are part of NCCC Class XX. The federal program is marking its 20th year in 2014, and plans to mark the milestone with a variet of events and a special celebration on Sept. 12.

"AmeriCorps began in 1994," said Program Director Jody Burns, who was among the first program personnel to visit Vinton when NCCC arrived in Vinton in 2008. Now with both AmeriCorps and FEMA-Corps, the program brings nearly 400 new people to Vinton each year. Thirty people now work full-time at the local NCCC office, which is formally called the North Central Region Campus.

The new arrivals first see the IBSSS gymnasium, where years ago the Iowa Rams competed in a variety of sports with the students from the Braille institutes of several other states. Maps of those states still cover the east wall of the gym. Burns noted that most of those states are in the region that the AmeriCorps NCCC campus serves; and all of those states have been sites for AmeriCorps or FEMA-Corps projects.

The members began Thursday with a group meeting -- called community -- and a welcome from Vinton Mayor John Watson. After a few weeks of training and an official induction service, they will begin traveling throughout the region to complete a variety of projects.

Mayor Watson has greeted most new incoming classes, sharing the history of how the first AmeriCorps team leaders arrived just in time for the 2008 flood, and sharing the Vinton perspective on the impact of the program. He also extends an invitation for them to consider making their home in Vinton sometime in the future.

Many of the new members are seeing Vinton, Iowa and snow for the very first time this week.

On Tuesday, the new arrivals tried on coveralls, boots and rain protection, and began settling into their dorm rooms.

See more photos and the new members reciting the AmeriCorps pledge for the first time HERE.

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