PUTNEY -- After Meghan Benzel completed a one year AmeriCorps program in Northern California last year she knew she wanted to come back to Landmark College to complete her bachelor's degree, which the former two-year college will begin offering in 2014.
She also thought it would be a good idea to work another year for AmeriCorps and continue serving communities that were less fortunate.
At the same time Landmark College was applying for an AmeriCorps grant to help support a new program to coordinate the community service groups at five schools in Putney.
Now Benzel has returned to southeastern Vermont to lead the community service program and prepare for returning to Landmark as the school unveils its new bachelor's degree program over the next year.
"When I was here as a student I didn't have the time to give back to this community like I wanted to," said Benzel, 22, about her time when she was busy as a Landmark student. "This is my time to give back."
The AmeriCorps grant that Landmark College won will help cover Benzel's expenses as she works with Landmark students as well as students from Putney School, Greenwood School, Putney Central and Grammar School.
Landmark College Dean of Students Michael Luciani said the small, private college for students with learning disabilities has always made community service an important part of student life on, and off of, the Putney campus.
Over the past few years the school has been making it a priority to connect its students with the Putney community.
Last year, during the weeks following Tropical Storm Irene, Luciani said Landmark forged a stronger bond with the other public and private schools in Putney.
He said the administrators thought the schools could do a better job connecting with the town, and in the end, get more work done to improve the lives of people in Putney and throughout Windham County.
"This is not something we consider to be extraneous for our students," Luciani said. "Citizenship is a core element of our students' identities and this is going to be one more way to do it."
Landmark applied for its AmeriCorps grant before administrators there knew Benzel might be considering a return to Putney.
After the school won the grant, and was beginning to set up the program, Benzel called to say she was interested in coming back to Putney.
Luciani said the school was fortunate to get a Landmark graduate to lead the program during its first year.
He said the five schools hope to work together to coordinate community service projects throughout the area over the coming year.
Benzel will work with administrators and teachers and lead the students from the other schools out into the community on service projects.
"Every school is excited about this," Luciani said. "There is a lot of energy and enthusiasm for this and we hope it will become a model we can use after the grant is done. We're really fortunate to have Meghan here to lead the program during the first year."
Benzel, a Pennsylvania native, said the AmeriCorps program gave her the perfect opportunity to return to Putney while Landmark establishes its four-year bachelor's program.
Landmark announced last year that it would be extending its program options from a two-year associate's degree to a full four-year degree.
Benzel, who successfully completed the two year program in 2011, decided she wanted to come back to Landmark as soon as she heard that the college was going to be accepting four year students.
At the same time, her year in Northern California showed her that community service was important and she was also looking forward to serving.
Benzel said the approaching year was going to be busy, and fulfilling, and she can not wait to begin.
"This has been home for me and now I will have time to really give back," she said. "If the schools already have programs I'm going to help make them better, and if there are not community service jobs I'm going to help find them. I'm going to help tie that rope together."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311 ext. 279. Follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.