AmeriCorps Teams Recalled From New Orleans

Two teams of AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) members have been recalled to their home base in Mississippi in the wake of the murder of one of the team members on the dangerous streets of New Orleans.

Joseph Massenburg, 18, was shot on April 1 at the corner of Eagle and Birch streets in the Leonidas section of New Orleans and was pronounced dead a short time later. Massenburg, of Matteson, Ill., and his team had been assigned to Green Light New Orleans (GLNO), which works to promote energy efficiency throughout the city.

GLNO has an office in the Leonidas neighborhood, just six blocks from the corner on which Massenburg died. NCCC members are housed close to where they work.

This is the first homicide since NCCC was founded in 1993, according to Samantha Jo Warfield, acting press secretary for the Corporation for National and Community Service. There have been a “small handful” of non-homicide deaths in the field for NCCC, she said, though she declined to comment further on how, why or where the deaths occurred. Warfield was also unable to provide a number of deaths for the AmeriCorps program as a whole, “due to the nature and structure of the AmeriCorps program. The NCCC program is the only one where we’re working with members this directly,” she said.

Massenburg had been in New Orleans for less than a month, having arrived on March 12. AmeriCorps NCCC is a long-term, direct service program for youth aged 18 to 24. Massenburg’s team was based in Vicksburg, Miss., one of five NCCC campuses around the country. This was Massenburg’s team’s first project.

The rest of the 10-person team and another NCCC team has returned to the Vicksburg campus for counseling, said Warfield. The second team was working with Habitat for Humanity New Orleans.

“The two teams were living near each other and working in the same area,” said Warfield. “After the incidents, we pulled them so they could go back to campus and circle back (to their projects) together.” There are still nearly 900 AmeriCorps members left in the city, but the teams that were removed were the only NCCC teams in New Orleans.

According to Warfield, counseling for AmeriCorps teams is not out of the ordinary. “It’s a pretty regular occurrence; they might see things they need help processing,” she said, such as after a disaster relief deployment. NCCC teams rotate back to their campus after every project, which usually last between six and eight weeks, for debriefing and additional training for their next project. “If we’re in the middle of a large-scale national disaster, teams could be focused on that, but we try to give our NCCC members a large scope of projects,” said Warfield.

The New Orleans Police Officer Frank Robertson, III, with the NOPD Public Affairs Division, declined to answer questions regarding a motive or a murder weapon saying only, “We are actively investigating this case. We do have some leads that we are working and hopefully we will have a suspect soon.” Officer Garry Flot said there were no updates on the investigation as of Thursday morning.

According to data from the City of New Orleans’ website, in 2012 the NOPD fielded almost 30,000 calls for service in the 70118 ZIP code, of which Leonidas is a small part. Of those calls, 14 were for homicide by shooting.

“This young man was serving his country, making a difference through service to others,” said Kate Raftery, AmeriCorps NCCC director via a statement. “His death is a tragic loss for his family, his friends, and our program. The safety of our members is a top priority. We work closely with local partners to provide a safe environment for all of our members in which to serve and live.”

GLNO released statement via its website: “It is an unacceptable tragedy that violence has taken the life of this young man. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Joseph Massenburg.” GLNO has been an AmeriCorps NCCC project sponsor since 2008, and 17 NCCC teams have worked with the nonprofit.

GLNO Executive Director Andreas Hoffman declined to comment, except to say that Massenburg was “a wonderful person.” He stressed that his organization would not be able to carry out its work without the help of NCCC volunteers, and that the “NCCC rebuilding efforts in New Orleans have been so incredible.”