Another Day, Another Storm

Hey blog fans, 
Just thought I’d update you all with a mid “work day” blog post. When I last updated you, we were finishing up our deployment in Baton Rouge, and started working at the Region 4 office in Atlanta, Georgia. In Atlanta, I was assisting the Planning section by shuffling through old disaster files to see which files needed to be retired to Archives or destroyed. 


But now, I am sitting in our hotel in Port Richey, Florida, waiting out a tropical storm watch while Hurricane Matthew continues its path up the coast of Eastern Florida. My team and I are actually in Florida to help register those affected by Hurricane Hermine for FEMA assistance, but we’re thinking we may be moved over East to help with Hurricane Matthew once it passes. Never did I think I would be in Florida while one of the worst Hurricanes in decades is making it’s path on Florida. I am glad that my friends living on the East coast evacuated, and that their families and friends were not directly hit by Matthew. It’s a scary feeling watching the news and seeing the Eye of the Hurricane getting closer and closer to the coast. There’s nothing you can do while you watch and hope that the storm turns back towards the ocean. I think having friends down here so close to being affected puts this year of service into a whole new perspective. Yes, I have been deployed to 4 major active disasters and have seen the destruction, but I have only interacted with the strangers of these communities. As selfish as that sounds, you never think these disasters will effect your friends and families, but it makes this year of service that more eye opening. 

And now? There’s just one more month left of my year of service. I can already feel myself eating my words every single time I called home and whined about how much I couldn’t wait for this year to be over. Yes, this year might not have been everything I thought it would be, but in so many other ways it’s been more than I could have ever imagined. 

More than the experiences, more than the places I have been able to explore, this year has given me the opportunity of personal growth. It has motivated me to work towards things that will only help me in the long run. It has taught me to keep negative people out of my life, and to only work towards things that truly make me happy. 

But with any major experience, you leave and return home feeling like a new person. You arrive so excited to start new goals, and to show others just how much you have changed. You have new morals and new thoughts about life. But with that being said, you already know that after a couple weeks of returning home, you will slowly start to lose that newfound motivation, and your new ambitions will slowly start to disappear. A couple weeks after returning you will be sitting on your couch, while your dog stares back at you, wondering “where have you even been the past 10 months?” And then it’ll hit you. The words that are inevitably going to happen. Two little words that pack so much stress. A question that every one tries to escape. That being, 
“Now what?” 
Of course, the last round of our term of service focuses around what we call, “Life After AmeriCorps.” But even all the planning that we each put in will not completely prepare you for being through straight back into reality. I may know that I am returning back to school once I return, but there will be a lot of adjusting to a life outside of the AmeriBubble. How do I continue to keep myself motivated for personal growth? How do I turn off my brain from thinking of the endless career options AmeriCorps has shown me? How do I continue to work towards one tangible goal I had set for myself throughout the year? 
I guess the only way to answer these questions is to take a little bit of what I have learned this year. During the difficult times, the times I thought my day would never come to an end, the weeks that all of my plans were crushed, and the days where I felt like nothing good was ever going to happen during my term of service. I got so accustomed to the feeling that anything that made me happy this year, would just in turn be stripped away. But despite that all, I kept my head up, and continued on my path to personal growth. I continued to take things one day at a time, and I continued to not let negative emotions get the best of me. 

I know when I return home in a month, I will miss the wonderful experiences and the wonderful friends I have made. I know I may feel scared and overwhelmed about returning to a normal life outside the bubble. But I feel confident in knowing that I have the tools and motivation to accomplish anything I put my mind too. 

The main thing I focused on this year was the preparedness, response, and recovery of major natural disasters. I think this can be compared to how you handle life’s biggest obstacles. The end phrase is always recovery and a final sense of relief. It’s the feeling of when the storm dies out, and you may see the blue skies and rainbows. You may have to pick up a few dissembled pieces, but you know you can always piece them back together and start brand new. 

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Back in the Bayou

Hi blog fans! Sorry that it’s been so so so long since my last blog post. It’s been a rocky 2 months. 

When I last updated ya’ll, I was working in Montgomery County, Texas outside of Houston doing some Disaster Survivor Assistance work. I was going door to door helping register people for Federal assistance and ensuring that everyone’s essential needs were being met. We were assigned to a fantastic crew that we learned from every day, and built even stronger relationships with. One of the reservists I worked with has also offered me the opportunity to volunteer on her farm in Puerto Rico after the program. I was also able to catch up with my dear friend, Jillian, who I met while studying abroad in Austria. Although the flooding in Texas was unfortunate, I am so thankful that I was able to reunite with her. 

When I also last updated ya’ll, our original 9 people were still here. We had had some leadership issues beginning in Round 1, that only continued to get worse throughout round 2. It got to the point where our team could no longer handle this constant burden, and we had no other choice but to bring the issue to higher ups. In return, our Team Leader resigned, and we were given a new Team Leader. It’s hard to lose a member that has been with your team for 5 months. Overall, if we did not make the decision we made, we would not have graduated. As hard of a decision as it was, it needed to be done for our own sanity. We have spent the last month trying to catch up on graduation requirements that we were unaware we were missing. We also had to get our hours corrected. It’s been a stressful and hectic time catching up with all this work, and we’ve had to schedule some team morale trips into our schedule as well. So yeah, you could say I’ve been pretty busy this round. I know our team is very thankful for this change, and to have a leader that is pushing us to succeed not only in the program, but with our personal goals as well. 

After working DSA in Montgomery, Texas, we were redeployed to Fort Worth, Texas to work in the Distribution Center. Here, we were fork lift certified in both stand-up and sit-down forklifts. I’m not sure when I’ll ever use this skill outside of the program, but if you ever need someone to raise a palette 30 feet in the air, or if you ever need someone that’ll almost knock over all of the racks of commodities with the forklift, you know who to call! The work we had done at the Distribution Center is part of the Logistics Cadre of FEMA. We handled the packing, shipping, and refurbishing of different commodities. The work wasn’t ideal, personally. We worked in a warehouse, that is not air conditioned, and is hotter than the weather outside (it has been in the 100’s this summer). If you know me at all, you know how crabby I get when I’m hot. So you can probably tell how much I was enjoying the warehouse work. The people we worked with at the warehouse were genuinely very nice people. We learned so much from them, and I have so much more respect for this field of work after working there. 

We were supposed to be heading to Sacramento for our transition to Round 3, where we would have been working with the American Red Cross in Santa Ana, California, helping the community and children in preparation for forest fires. A couple days before we were supposed to be leaving for Sacramento, we received an emergency phone call at night, stating that we were needed to leave the next morning at 5 am to check into the Joint Field Office in Baton Rouge. The flooding that Baton Rouge is experiencing is the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy. It’s really hard being so close to leaving the South, and then getting news that you are being redeployed. The people in Louisiana need us way more than you can imagine. We had to pack up all our bags, pack the van, get our driving route from Fort Worth to Baton Rouge, pack up all our groceries, and head to bed for a very tiring morning, and even more exhausting weeks to come. 
We have been living in Lafayette, Louisiana and commuting to different areas of East Baton Rouge Parish. We have worked in two different shelters and in the Baton Rouge Sheriff department. The flooding is devastating. There are over 10,000 people still living in shelters. I have personally talked to people that have had their whole house underwater. I’ve listened to stories on stories of people being evacuated by boat, unsure where they will live, or how they will support their loved ones. My team and I have registered many of these people for possible FEMA assistance, while also referring them to Whole Community Partners and Voluntary Organizations. We are currently working 12 hour days, 7 days a week. It’s hard being down here. Seeing the water lines unbelievably high, and knowing that these survivors lives are forever changed. We have walked survivors through the steps of FEMA, the SBA loan, and I hope, we have given these survivors enough information to get back on their feet with a little less stress. There are stories that will stick with me for years after this program ends. I remember registering a very sweet woman, very positive, despite having water up to her roof. In the middle of the registration, she began to cry, as she just realized in that moment that her brothers ashes were in the house, and that they are now underwater. She had no friends and no family, and she told me she feels so much more alone now that her house is destroyed. I’ll be honest, I feel so incredibly unhelpful. I wish I could do something more to help these people. I urge anyone that is reading my blog, to please donate to some credible sources. The American Red Cross has been working day and night to help these survivors. 

Our transition has been cancelled, and we have been extended at least another 30 days on this disaster. I am not sure how long we will be down in Baton Rouge, and I am not sure where we will go after. 

This program. It’s weird. Some weeks fly by. Other weeks feel like a century. There are days that I’m so over the program, and other days when I don’t want the program to end. There are days that I feel like I’ll never see the prairie state again (which, I wouldn’t really mind, honestly). There are days that this program is just what I expected. Other days this program is nothing like I expected. 
We have two and a half more months left in this program, and I am curious what else will be thrown our way. I know my team and I will persevere through it all, and the finish line is coming up fast.  

Crawfish, Sweet Tea, and Country Boys

Hey there!

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.

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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.

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What a Game Changer..

“So, change of plans. We’re heading to Louisiana to help with the flooding instead of going to Texas.”

Wait…what?

Let me back it up for you. This past week has been one of the longest weeks of my life. From our 6 hour drive from Sacramento to San Luis Obispo, to our 8 hour DSA training days, there hasn’t been much time for rest and not much alone time. The only time I’m completely alone is while showering, so it’s an interesting change. In SLO, we were lodging at an active military base camp. Our dorm room held 20 girls all sleeping in beds, in a row, in one room. I obviously wouldn’t prefer to be staying there, with set eating times, a curfew, in a gated area that feels like prison… But beggars can’t be choosers. We would spend our days preparing for the work we thought we’d be doing in Denton, Texas. Buuuuut Surprise, surprise.

Throughout all of our trainings, we have heard the words , “FEMA Flexible.” And that’s exactly what we’re demonstrating now. We thought we’d be working in the regional FEMA office in Denton, Texas where we mapped out the routes, hotels, pit stops, and did all our team research on. But right before leaving, we were thrown the curveball that instead, Baton Rouge, Louisiana needs us more. So back to the drawing board with our team planning. Louisiana is going through some of the worst flooding they’ve had in 21 years. We will be going door to door to help the survivors get assistance from FEMA, as well as refer them to other resources for help. We’re all excited to actually be doing work in our field, because in Denton we would have most likely just stayed in the office all day doing different field work than we were trained on.  To say I’m terrified is a little bit of an understatement. As much training as I’ve had, it’s still a tad bit worrisome to know that we are basically acting as first responders to these survivors that are going through legitimately the worst day of their lives. But at the same time, it’s empowering and beyond rewarding to know that I may give someone the reason to smile on the worst day of their life. I’m part of a program so much bigger than myself, and I’m so excited to see where this program takes me after the 10 months.

Aside from all the FEMA training, San Luis Obispo was absolutely beautiful. I had the opportunity to do some hiking through the mountains for incredible views. I was also able to freeze my feet  in the Pacific Ocean in Pismo Beach. In the bigger spectrum of things, FEMA training has been rough…really rough. But I’ve been able to do and see so many incredible things already, and it’s only a month in. I’ve met such inspiring and interesting people. I’ve learned such abstract information. && Ive been eager to show off my new found skills. Though it still feels like I’m at a summer camp just hanging around, stuff is about to get real…real fast.

Right now I’m currently making my way to Louisiana with my team in our 15-passenger van. Im sandwiched in the back row of the van, surrounded by my team, blasting some throw back music between driving and taking naps. We just took a detour through the Painted Desert by Flagstaff, Arizona as we make our way to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the night. We’ll spend the next night in Wichita Falls, Texas before traveling the rest of the way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

If you could do one thing for me, keep the people of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, New Jersey, and all the others that are being impacted by this disaster, in your thoughts and prayers.

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Hiking in San Luis Obispo.

A Day In The Life

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FEMA Induction Day! 

 

So, I’m writing a blog. This is a first, so please bare with me. If you’re just starting here, you’ve missed 22 years of past adventures…but that doesn’t matter too much for this. About three weeks ago, I traded my routine Midwest life for the adventure of a lifetime in Sunny Sacramento. This new journey is about to be the most exhausting, ever changing, and most rewarding experience I’ll probably ever experience.

The biggest question I have received in these past few weeks is: “Wait, so like…..what exactly are you doing in McClellan, California, 2,019 miles away from home?”

Well, I am serving a year as a corps member with Americorps NCCC-FEMA Corps. Now that’s quite the mouthful. Let me break it down for you. My team is Green 6 (GREEEEEN SQUAAAAD…YOU KNOW!) and I could not be happier. Over the course of the year, I will be serving on a team with eight other young adults between the ages of 19-24 years old. My team is driven, witty, hilarious, sarcastic, caring, and most of all, my family, for the next 10-months. Together, we will be working as Disaster Survivor Assistance specialists as we go door-to-door to register survivors for assistance. We’re a joint program between Americorps NCCC and FEMA, mostly working in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery programs throughout the U.S. (To learn more, go to: Nationalservice.gov)

The second biggest question I have received is, “So….what did you do today?”

Currently, I am finishing up the first few weeks of training before we head to San Luis Obispo tomorrow for some more FEMA specialized training, and then, we deploy to our first assignments. My first assignment location just so happens to be Denton, Texas! It has been the absolute longest three weeks of my life in the best way possible. I’ll give you a glimpse of what a typical day of Corps member Training Institute looks like.

5:00 am- Alarm goes off. Press snooze.
5:15 am- Roommate #1’s alarm goes off. Press snooze.
5:30 am- Roommate #2’s alarm goes off. Press snooze.
5:45 am- All three alarms go off. We all gather our warmest workout clothes, PT Belt, and brave the outside for PT.
6:00-6:45- PT. This involves running, stairs, sprints, miles, yoga, belly dancing…there are a lot of different activities depending on the day, but it’s catered so that everyone can get a good workout at their own physical pace.
6:45-7:45 am- Our hectic rushing to the shower (we share a bathroom with 4 other girls), eating breakfast, packing lunches, making coffee, and cleaning up the kitchens.
7:45-8 am- Morning Welcome. This is when a staff member gives a speech to kick-start the day on a positive note.
8 am- 12 am- Training. Each day provides new and helpful information. Examples could be anything from diversity, to FEMA Basic training, to some sort of hands on team activity. Coffee and caffeine pills are recommended for this…I wish I was joking about the caffeine pills….but, sadly, I am not.
12 am- 1 pm- Lunch. We’re not allowed in the kitchens during training days, so this is when we eat our packed lunches. Or if you miss packing lunch like I do, this is when you head out for some California taco places: Aldabertos is a popular favorite.
1 pm-5 pm- Death by powerpoint continued.
5-8 pm- Dinner. Nap. Team meetings. Team grocery shopping. Depends on the day, and depends on schedule.
8-?- We spend this time winding down, squeezing in personal time, and talking to friends and family back home.
5 am- Alarm goes off. Press snooze.

So, you could say that these past three weeks have been eye-opening, challenging, exhausting beyond belief, and over all absolutely incredible. There’s something so thrilling to be thrown into a random team with people from 4 different time zones. Different cultures.  Different walks of life. Different views. I might be biased in saying this, but I think I luckily got the best team. We’ve brought out the strengths in each team member, and we’re working towards getting rid of the weaknesses. So no, I don’t get much sleep. I don’t get much free time. I don’t get much space. And no, I wouldn’t change a thing about it. I’m on this crazy roller coaster we call Amerilife, and I am so excited to see where this new adventure takes me. Next stop: San Luis Obispo and then we’re off to Denton, Texas to show off what Green 6 is made of!

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Weekend Trip To San Francisco