By Ben Ballerstein
After watching Hurricane Katrina devastate the gulf coast, I wanted to help. My brother told me about a Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) program called AmeriCorps and said I should look into it. I went online and applied to a few programs, but was hoping I’d get the chance to make a difference in the gulf.
Two months after submitting my application, I had packed all my belongings and was traveling across the United States to swear in as a new member of the AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT), then in their 12th year. Throughout the next two years I traveled to the gulf to help rebuild, to rural Missouri to help communities recovering from severe tornadoes, and to Montana to build hiking trails and remove invasive plants.
After my service in St. Louis, I returned home to Rochester, NY, to sign up to serve one more year as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, where I worked closely with the New York CNCS State Office (CSO). From that exposure, I knew that I wanted to continue my service as a federal employee after graduate school.
It wasn’t long after completing my master’s program that I had the opportunity to join the CNCS Atlantic Cluster and work with my New York colleagues again. I believe it was my previous connection through my VISTA service that helped me secure an opening in federal service.
A few months into my new position, I was called down to help coordinate the Hurricane Sandy Response in New York City along with the director of the New York State CSO. Driving from Boston, I was making arrangements with an AmeriCorps team that had just arrived after driving overnight from St. Louis. A few hours later, I introduced myself to year 19 ERT. It was easy to see that the spirit of service connected us and helped us carry our commitment to New York and beyond.
Ben Ballerstein is a Program and Management Analyst at CNCS.