What Will Your Legacy Be?

By Thomas Trapane Jr. 

Thomas Trapane Jr. (left) poses for a photo with Ge. Stanley McChrystal at the Franklin Project Summit at Gettysburg.

AmeriCorps member looks to future after FEMA Corps experience

Thomas Trapane Jr. is a FEMA Corps Team Leader and delivered this message to the Franklin Project Summit at Gettysburg.

I lead a team of young men and women, all from different parts of the country, in response to disasters that affect communities every year - this working partnership between the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) and the Department of Homeland Security is known as FEMA Corps.

I grew up in Tallahassee, FL, and recently earned my Bachelor’s of Science degree from the College of Criminology at Florida State University. (Go Noles!) I accepted this opportunity to serve as a FEMA Corps Team Leader so that I may improve my leadership skills in hopes of bettering myself to serve with the 1% of Americans that make up our Armed Forces. My dream is to become a United States Marine, lead people, and fly the most technologically advanced aircraft in the world. I have spent the last four years working, obtaining my degree, volunteering with campus organizations, and legitimately trying to make a difference in the lives of my friends and family.

One organization I worked with was the Entrepreneurial Boot Camps for Veterans (EBV) Program; run by one of the most veteran-friendly schools in the country, Florida State. It was designed to give our service members — those who were injured in the line of duty — a way to re-integrate themselves back into civilian life. It was a way of showing our genuine appreciation to those who carried the heaviest of burdens, and to make it our duty to give them the care and attention they need at a time of vulnerability.

As a freshman, I was asked by a fighter pilot, Air Force ROTC Commander Billy Francis, what my legacy in life would be? I had no idea what Billy was challenging me to do, but I’ve kept it in my thoughts ever since then.

Upon joining FEMA Corps, I have seen nothing but opportunity this year. Of course, it wasn’t always wrapped up and packaged in a nice envelope labeled directly as something that will benefit me. It was different, it was challenging, it was experience that you couldn’t possibly gain unless you were to be put in a difficult situation with a group of complete strangers.

As FEMA Corps members, teams spend 10 months completing direct community service all over the United States in the field of disaster response and recovery. My team serves as Disaster Survivor Assistance Specialists, and has been deployed to the field during active and inactive disasters.

For six weeks, we spent time in Lincroft, New Jersey, piloting an interactive program that was meant to educate high schoolers to become preparedness advocates within their communities. The main focus of this project was to engage youth (the ones affected by a disaster) to become vigilant citizens within their communities so that they may be ready to act when another superstorm hit. After several weeks, our team packed up and traveled 1,200 miles to Mobile, AL — a trip we were all more than willing to make. This was it, the action was in front of us, and we were running toward it with open arms. All of our training was what gave us the confidence we needed to get out and do our jobs.

Disaster Survivor Assistance has been a recent creation that allows disaster survivors to obtain a more quality type of assistance. Teams go door-to-door using iPads and other technology to register survivors with our system, so that they may obtain federal aid to rebuild their lives. Instead of the survivors coming to us, we go directly to them. We place ourselves in the lives of people who absolutely need help — the ones who do not have the means to do it themselves, the ones who are vulnerable.

However, this is the opportunity that comes with a price — we get to see some of the most intense stages of a disaster, deal directly with the ones who are affected by it the most, and are told to accomplish the mission over and over again, no matter how difficult.

While being extremely tough, the rewards outweigh the costs, and my team has recognized this as a definite opportunity for personal growth. During weekly team meetings, we talked about the people who have thanked us, the ones who cracked a smile when we showed up to their neighborhood because they knew we were there to help. We also talked about the people that still need our help such as the single mother with four children who lives in a house so overgrown with mold and mildew that it’s hard to breathe.

As a team, FEMA Corps has been our opportunity and will continue to be until the end of November. We signed up for this and have accepted the duties that are required by AmeriCorps and FEMA Corps members. This is my answer to Billy Francis’ challenge. When I think about my legacy in life, I’m thinking about the endless opportunities I can take to help people in times of their greatest, human struggle.

I will take every single opportunity I get. 

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