First Person: Choose FEMA Corps!

By Samantha Hawke

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Corps member shares her experiences, encourages others to join

Through Sept 1, 2014, if you apply to serve as a corps member with FEMA Corps, you’ll receive your invitation to serve, and have the opportunity to choose your campus! Why choose FEMA Corps? Read one member’s FEMA Corps service story to learn more about the program and what you’ll gain while serving.

Three weeks into our first service assignment in October 2012, my team of 10 members was checking the news every 10 minutes, tracking the path of what would become one of the largest natural disasters to hit the United States, superstorm Sandy.

We left our assignment in Baton Rouge on Oct. 28, 2012, for New York City, not knowing what to expect upon arriving. Our first day in the field, we were sent to Breezy Point, Queens, NY, one of the most-devastated areas of the disaster, tasked with providing information to survivors about FEMA assistance and making sure survivors had enough food and water. Breezy Point also suffered a generator explosion during the storm, leaving a large portion of the town completely destroyed. No one on my team, or any of the other four teams there that day, had ever seen first-hand the destruction we witnessed that morning.

Amazingly, amidst the demolished homes and flooded streets, homeowners and their families asked us how we were doing, and thanked us for being there. It was incredible to see the resiliency and tenacity of these people who had lived through such a major disaster. 

During our time in New York, we served in the field assisting disaster survivors, and also spent time at FEMA’s New York Joint Field office – the main office that coordinates all response and recovery efforts for a disaster. We lived on a merchant marine ship, bunked in cabins at a campground in the woods, and mastered the subway system traveling to and from Individual Service Projects – additional service projects we completed after our regular work hours and on days off.

Our lives were not typical while serving with FEMA Corps, nor was the work. We did not spend eight hours a day going through the motions at an office, and then head home to catch up on the latest reality TV. We spent hours and days talking to disaster survivors to ensure they had whatever they needed to move forward in their lives – which many times was simply a listening and supportive ear. We didn’t have our own vehicles, and we wore a uniform every day. We spent many evening hours entertaining each other with cheesy jokes and sharing our favorite music.

These experiences quickly became our norm, and before we knew it, our service was ending, and we were reflecting on all that we had done and all that we had gained.   

FEMA Corps provided me with a practical, professional, disaster services oriented education, and an amazing and unique experience. I gained extensive leadership, organizational, conflict resolution, and emergency management knowledge and skills. I met some of my closest friends, grew as a professional, and gained deeper insight into how service can impact communities, especially during and after disasters. My service with FEMA Corps was full of twists and turns, and I can’t imagine it any other way. It impacted every part of who I am and what I understand about the world.

Martin Luther King Jr. famously asked, “What are you doing for others?” Any service-minded individual has at one point pondered this question. FEMA Corps can help you find the answer. I strongly believe all young adults can benefit from this type of service program, and highly encourage anyone thinking about national service to consider AmeriCorps NCCC and FEMA Corps.

To learn more about AmeriCorps NCCC and FEMA Corps or to apply, visit www.nationalservice.gov/nccc. The application deadline to serve beginning in February 2015 is Oct. 1, 2014. 

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