Just thought I would update you with a mid-work day post. As mentioned previously, there is a reason why you’ll only see me wear Polo shirts, men’s cargo pants, and steel-toed boots. I am in the process of completing my 10-month service with AmeriCorps NCCC- FEMA Corps. Over the past month, my team and I have been working 7 days a week, and we have registered over 200 people for FEMA assistance. Right now, I am currently sitting in a gas station parking lot with a couple team members and my FEMA reservist. We’re taking a break from canvassing the area, while some residents stop to speak to us about FEMA and their experiences with the flooding. The rain is twinkling down around us as we eat our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and apples (that government stipend though). It’s been a pretty busy month since first arriving in northern Louisiana. In the past month, I have moved between 4 different living situations and parishes. I have stayed in 2 motels, a shelter, and currently a rec center. And we have just found word out that we will be moving again next week to the Joint Field Office in Baton Rouge. If you know me at all, you know I love traveling and moving around. But it’s really not always fun packing up all your stuff into your two bags and reloading and unloading the vans every couple days. It’s actually quite stressful. But it’s part of the journey.
For a couple weeks, we actually got to experience living in a shelter with some survivors of the Louisiana Flooding in Rayville, Louisiana (The town of Rayville and the shelter were also our work sites for a couple weeks). Hands down one of the most humbling experiences I have been faced with. The survivors stayed in cots, with only a box of personal items that they were able to save from their now destroyed home. And we had the opportunity to sleep right alongside them on our own cots. One of my favorite experiences since being here was talking with the survivors at the shelter during dinner. So many of the survivors had such a positive attitude after losing everything they owned, and it showed me how much it meant to them to have someone just lend them a listening ear. We were able to check in on their application status every day, and answer any questions that they had about FEMA. It’s hard to express in words what it was like staying at the shelter, and although we were working where we lived, I would not change the experience for anything.
Something that opened my eyes in this disaster is how welcoming and caring this tiny community is (really, tiny. 3,000 people tiny). While canvassing the neighborhoods, many of the residents that had damage would tell us that they weren’t going to register their homes because they felt that other people’s situations were far worse than theirs…even though many of these people also had black mold climbing up their walls. Many times they also told us their stories about how each of the neighbors on their street helped each other at 3 am with sandbags and the aftermath of the storm. So many residents have shook my hand and personally thanked me for the little things we have done for their community…as well as offer me crawfish straight from the bayou.
There’s something we call the “AmeriCorps Bubble.” Basically, being in this program cuts you off from the outside world a little bit. You breathe AmeriCorps, eat AmeriCorps, and sleep AmeriCorps. Even though we have only been here a couple months, I can not even imagine being at home. I can not remember what it’s like driving my little compact car instead of the 15-passenger van. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember what it’s like hopping in my car and running to the store, without needing at least two other people to go with you. I don’t remember what it’s like cooking a meal for one, as opposed to a meal for 9. I can’t tell you what my friends and family have been doing. I’m in a program that is focused on relying on other corps members 24/7. But I absolutely love it.
Thinking back to Corps Member Training Institute, I can remember sitting down while one of our unit leaders was speaking to us about expectations for the year. I remember him telling us that if we had any expectations for the year, to get rid of them. I also recall thinking, “okay, no big deal.” And now, while sitting in Hebert, Louisiana surrounded by no service, fields on fields on fields of cow and soy, and a couple small churches for the community, I can begin to understand what he means. So far, the year has gone on a totally different path than expected. Over the past couple months, we have heard of a great deal of corps members and friends leave the program. We have heard talk of other corps members on the brink of leaving. With all the things that may have gone wrong these past couple months, I have seen it genuinely bring out the best in those around me (and sometimes the worst, but we can’t all keep it together all the time). So as we tackle the obstacles of our living and working situations, I’ll remember to take things with a grain of salt.
As much as the heaviness of these past few weeks have been weighing on my physical and emotional state, I can genuinely say that I am happy I have stuck this program out. Even when this program doesn’t look as amazing as the pictures do, I know I came here for a reason. Recently my friends have told me to continue to “save the world.” And I’m always reminded how badly these people I’m talking to every day actually do need my help. If I wasn’t in the program, I would still be running around a restaurant wondering what the rest of the world has to offer me. I may not know exactly what I want to do after my term with AmeriCorps, but I know I’m here to make a difference in other people’s lives and my own. No matter what hardships I go through this year, it’s only one year of my life and the experience will remain with me for all the years that follow.
At the end of the day, I truly feel lucky for the team members I am able to surround myself with on the daily basis. Each one of my team members are passionate, hard working, ‘wicked smart’, hilarious, and caring individuals. And when things start to go down hill, I know I can always count on them to lift my spirits back up. I’m on such an amazing roller coaster ride, and I’m so lucky to be able to share the ride with the people I do.