Archive for August, 2012

Rantings and Ravings of a Mad Man

So, it’s been quite a while since I’ve gotten the chance to blog (almost three weeks).  It worries me that I’ve gone so long without blogging, but believe me when I say that life has been chaotic. 

The past three weeks have been an adventure that I have loved, feared and survived.  Corps Members (CMs) arrived, Corps Training Institute (CTI) began,adventures were had with my temporary team, my computer decided it didn’t like the internet, Hurricane Isaac decided to hit the night of team reveal, and the power decided to go out on campus and has yet to return. 

Last night was one of the first nights since CMs arrived that I feel like I got enough sleep, mainly due to the fact that we had no power and by 9:30 (2130) I was exhausted and didn’t have to wake up until almost 8 this morning (0800). 

Since the last time I posted, I’ve had several thoughts run through my head, so forgive me for being scatter-brained, but I hope I hit them all in the following words: 

Forgiveness and Acceptance v. Compromise

Many times I find myself angry at individuals who have wronged me (or who I have wronged) and then I try to change the way I act around them (or with they would change).  I have discovered that compromising in a situation may not be the best situation, especially if both parties disagree with one another. 

It is better to agree to disagree.  Forgive one another and accept that we are different.  Compromising puts our own and others beliefs at risk.  Asking them to bend so that you are more comfortable, or bending yourself to ease the tension puts both parties at risk. 

You teach others how you want to be treated by how you treat yourself
– Gary Turner, Region Director

Confidence in Who you Are

One of the things that I admire about this group of 200+ individuals that showed up three weeks ago is the fact that they all are confident in who they are.  It is my belief that if you know who you are as an individual, then you will not bend to who people think you should be. 

This group of CMs have inspired me because they have this confidence in knowing themselves. 

The Fear of Failing

I think at some point in time each of us has stopped and asked ourselves how we would react when a disaster hits.  Will be freeze?  Will we be stopped in our tracks?  Will everything, all our thoughts and fears, turn silent as we react?

Every single one of us holds the fear of failing close to our hearts.  We are afraid that when people need us the most, we will not know what to do. 

As Hurricane Isaac moved through the area these past couple days, several CMs and TLs expressed the desire to rush in and do something, anything to help.  I explained to my team, as did many TLs, that if we were to go in without training, not only would we not know what to do, we would just be in the way.  It’s frustrating to know that we still have four more weeks of training before we head out into the field, but at the same time I know that when the time comes, we will excel because we will have this training. 

White Knight Syndrome

As AmeriCorps*NCCC – FEMA Corps members, we will be entering into communities and areas affected by disaster.  We are young and have a bunch of energy.  This creates the dilemma of being too eager to help, believing and expressing the belief that we are there to save the community. 

As I’ve said before, FEMA is a supporting agency.  Our job is not their to save anybody.  We are there to assist them to the best of our abilities.  We are not the White Knight riding in on the spotless horse to save the day.  We are the builders, the healers that come into the wreckage and position ourselves shoulder to shoulder with those in the communities we serve. 

Just because we have all this training, these fancy titles does not mean that we are better.  When we enter the community, we are called to humble ourselves and provide the support so that others can rise to the challenges of rebuilding, recovering and returning to life. 

I don’t need your voice.  I need to know that you have my back, supporting me

Lifting Others Up v. Meeting Them at Their Level

We all entered into this adventure with our different experiences, skill sets and knowledge.  We are all here, in this together to build one another up and grow and develop into leaders.  There is a difference between lifting others up and meeting them at their level in regards to giving them the strength to grow as individuals. 

Look at it as an image.  When you watch someone lift someone up, they are usually on different levels, be it experiences, physical footing, or situations.  One is higher than the other, reaching down.  When you meet someone at the level they are on, you are no longer superior to them.  You humble yourself and give up the fact that you may have had a better footing than them.  You meet as equals and lift them from an even playing field, growing together. 

Closing

Yes, I have rambled and hit many different topics, all scattered across the continuum of relevance.  I hope you have been able to stick with the chaos that I call my thoughts.  I hope it will not be this long before I am able to write again. 

God Bless and PEACE

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Pencils, Clipboards and Office Work

Throughout all of Team Leader Training (TLT) we have experienced the roller coaster ride of the never-ending unknown surrounding AmeriCorps*NCCC FEMA Corps.  With so many uncertainties, every answer we received sparked hundreds of questions.  I feel that even now, as TLT comes to an end and Corps Members (CMs) start arriving in the morning, there are so many people asking what they will be doing over these next ten months of service. 

I don’t hold all of the answers.  None of the Team Leaders (TLs) know everything.  FEMA Corps is a brand new program, a new initiative that has yet to reveal all of itself.  In Denver, our motto for NCCC was “Be flexible, from the F to the E.”  Here, with its beginnings, us TLs have taken that approach, becoming what we now consider “FEMA Flexible.”  Semper Gumby. 

One of the earliest comments that got everyone concerned (both TLs and CMs) was the statement that FEMA Corps was going to be the office workers of NCCC.  Instead of shovels and chain saws, we would be wielding pens and clipboards.  Many of us were and are still expecting to be the boots on the ground immediately after a disaster, a role that the traditional NCCC excels in. 

Throughout TLT we began to understand the role of FEMA in disaster response and the roles that we, as AmeriCorps members would be playing.  Unlike first responders, FEMA usually does not participate in the initial response to a disaster.  Due to procedures and policies, the mission of FEMA (and as a direct reflection, FEMA Corps) is a supporting role throughout disaster response. 

When a disaster strikes, the local first responders are the first to arrive on scene.  In the event that they are overwhelmed, they request the support of surrounding counties, agencies and municipalities.  In the event that they are overwhelmed, the Governor of the state may declare a State Disaster and request the support of resources throughout the state and surrounding area.  At this point, if things are bigger than the State resources can handle, the Governor must send a request to the President of the United States to announce a National Disaster.  Upon this declaration, FEMA, now a section of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has 72 hours to set up whatever is needed, from Joint Field Offices (JFOs) to Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs). 

:::NOTE:::
This is a brief overview of disaster response from memory.  It may not be completely accurate, so don’t base any of your arguments or opinions on my writings.  I’m sure FEMA’s website has a better description of all the steps it takes before they have the authority to act

FEMA is a supporting agency.  They do not come in and take over, but they do set up the structure so that the local municipalities, the local response teams have the support needed to accomplish their goals. 

FEMA Corps role in all this complex beast is complex and hard to explain because at this point in time, it is all theoretical.  The members of FEMA Corps will be assigned specialist roles, trained by FEMA and utilized throughout the various JFOs and DRCs. 

While we will not be the traditional NCCC, we will be doing a lot more than just walking around with a clipboard and a stack of forms.  We will be interacting with individuals affected by the disasters, hearing their stories and assisting them as they rebuild, recover and continue living after their world has been shattered.  We will be working in warehouses and distribution points.  We will be setting up shelters and coordinating with volunteer agencies.  Inspecting local infrastructure and building relationships throughout the communities. 

This will be nothing new to NCCC.  In disaster response traditional NCCC teams have filled these roles before.  In my time in Joplin, my team (as well as members of several teams) found ourselves doing the same work that we will be trained to do through FEMA Corps. 

Yes, it will be different.  Yes, it will be challenging.  Yes, there will be a lot of work (and some of it will include paperwork, computers, and forms.  We are working with/for the Federal Government, it happens).  Yes, it will be an adventure. 

So with hearts racing and blood rushing through our veins, us TLs eagerly await the arrival of the 219 CMs that will flood into campus.  So, to all the CMs that may be reading this;  May your travels be smooth and your hearts be light.  We loved you before we met you, and will be here to welcome you into the Amer-family.  For all those that will not be here physically for this journey;  May your thoughts and prayers guide us safely through these next ten months. 

God Bless and PEACE

Pieces of the Puzzle

Over the past couple days, the Team Leaders (TLs) of AmeriCorps*NCCC FEMA Corps headed down to Louisiana to work with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Baton Rouge.  There we got our hands dirty as we worked side by side with volunteers and staff personnel in preconstruction and painting work. 

While we focused a lot on tool training, team building and hands on work beneath the blistering sun, I noticed how a lot of what we were doing correlated with our perspective work at TLs and with FEMA Corps. 

This morning, we descended on the worksite and wood pile to create exterior and interior door and window panes, from the headers to the kings, jacks and studs.  Like a swarm of locusts, we devoured all that we could, kicking up a cloud of sawdust and roaring with the sound of hammers constantly descending, driving in hundreds of nails. 

It was interesting to see all the puzzle pieces being put into place.  During preconstruction, all the pieces of the house are built so that when the time comes to put up the walls and lift up the beams to create the structure, everything is in place to go.  Instead of waiting for the pieces to be assembled, they can now be picked up off the stack and everything keeps moving. 

Throughout Team Leader Training (TLT) we have been given the skills and knowledge to provide us the ability to lead, to serve and to grow.  We have been given the pieces of this puzzle and will soon be assembling all of them in this experience as Corps Members arrive on campus next week. 

In the same way, we have pieces (not all) of the relationship between CNCS (AmeriCorps) and FEMA.  There will be scrambling and chaos throughout the year, but the campus staffs, Unit Leaders and Team Leaders are prepared for anything that can be thrown our way.  As the saying in AmeriCorps goes, “be flexible, from the F to the E.”  Semper Gumby. 

We arrived back on campus after a three hour drive sweaty, exhausted and prepared to dive right back into training.  We are not fearless; we just know that the support is there when we need it. 

God Bless and PEACE

The Noise in the Silence

I was laying there this morning, trying to silence my thoughts so that I could center myself, allowing me to focus on God.  The sunlight was piercing through the layers of leaves, shadows dancing through the window and across the walls.  And for a moment, everything was still. 

Then the fire alarm went off.  Only for a couple of seconds, but it was enough to feel like I was hit by a freight train.  The ringing echoed long after the flashing light went dark and the wailing siren went silent.  And my thoughts began to fill the silence that was so serene.  It seems like anywhere I go, I can never find a way to completely silence my thoughts, fears and expectations. 

Over the past week, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about my time in Africa, my experiences on that Dark Continent that brought light and meaning into my life.  At night I see the faces of children, of friends, of wise old men and loving women whose wrinkles are a testament to their will to survive.  I lie awake at night and I can still hear them laughing, I can still hear the words of friendship, the whispers of knowledge echoing in the darkness.

I cannot think without visions of my journey swirling back, filling the void in my mind.  I can still see the rising sun chase away the dark of night over that small clinic in Uganda.  I can still see the smiling faces as they come through the serving lines of the Africa Mercy Dinning Hall.  I can still see the wreckage scattered across St. Louis and the devastation of Joplin.

And at times, when my mind begins to drift, I can still feel the gentle rocking of the ship beneath my feet and the hands of children pulling at my fingers, leading me down the red trail into the unknown. 

In these moments I find myself smiling, knowing that God is constantly reminding me of all that I have learned over the years.  He is making sure I never forget where I’ve been and who I have become. 

I used to fear the silence because it was a constant reminder of what I have seen, what I have lived through, all that I feared.  I now know that it is a blessing, a time ro reflect back on all the experiences that I have been blessed with.

God Bless and PEACE