Volunteer Village on the Northeast campus has become a home away from home for several workampers. They come from all across the country, some from as far away as South Dakota or as close as Gilmer.
Staff Photo | Serenity Mitchell
By Joelle Weatherford
What do national parks and Northeast Texas Community College have in common?
Most people would assume almost nothing, but, like many campgrounds across the country, NTCC is part of the Workamper Program.
This program allows people to work on the NTCC campus while living on a small RV campsite located near the NTCC rodeo arena. Dubbed “Volunteer Village,” the campsite is currently the only one of its kind in the nation to participate in the Workamper Program.
Tom Ramler, NTCC director of plant services, heard about the program in fall 2017.
“You know how sometimes you stumble into an idea and it’s not really something you sat down and contemplated, it just kind of falls into your lap,” Ramler said. “This kind of fell into my lap.”
After further research, he discovered that this type of program had never been attempted on a college campus.
“For the life of me, I could not find any college or university in the nation that had people working in these volunteer positions,” Ramler said. “I thought maybe we should be the first.”
He wrote up a proposal for a $20,000 campsite that could hold five RVs and presented it to the NTCC administration.
“The administration agreed to let me try out my idea, and we built this little five space campground and it has been full ever since,” Ramler said.
With only two full time employees, Ramler said that the program has helped increase productivity for the maintenance of the campus. Each workamper is required to work a minimum of 15 hours a week. Their hours translate into rent for staying at the campsite.
“Realistically, the workampers have doubled my workforce. That’s a huge deal,” Ramler said.
South Dakotans Joe and Peggy Coutermarsh have been workamping at NTCC since the program began three years ago.
“My first year here we took down all the light poles around the campus circle, and I refinished them,” Joe Coutermarsh said.
The workampers have helped with just about everything on campus, from painting offices to taking care of the animals at the Ag Complex. They have even worked through Thanksgiving and Christmas break, maintaining the farm while Rene McCracken, director of sustainable agriculture, took a much-needed break.
“We went over and [took care of] the cows, fell in the mud and fed the chickens, so they could go on vacation,” Peggy Coutermarsh said.
Every year, workampers from all over the United States apply to be a part of NTCC’s workamper program. Ramler said they do background checks on all applicants and, after a few phone interviews and recommendation letters, the campers are welcomed to Volunteer Village.
Most workampers stay on through the winter months, then leave for new destinations in the spring. Ramler said he enjoys having the campers on no matter how long they choose to stay.
“This is not something they have to do, it’s something they want to do,” Ramler said. “They’re just the most amazing people.”