When the Storms Come Crashing To Shore

Late yesterday afternoon Hurricane Sandy landed ashore, slamming into New England with a vengeance that has not been seen in years.  With winds extending 450 miles from the center of the storm, the impacts were felt from North Carolina all the way up  through New York City into Rhode Island and beyond. 

As the winds and rain lashed out in their fury, the Corps Members (CMs) and Team Leaders (TLs) of Traditional NCCC and the newly created FEMA Corps hunkered down and waited out the storm as we staged a response to the storm of the century. 

In the Emergency Management world, there are jokes about natural disasters being job insurance.  It’s an awful thing to joke about.  Somebody elses suffering.  Somebody elses life on the line. 

We watched Sandy move up the East coast with a sick fascination.  We watched and waited to see where the eye would pass on shore, where we would be sent to help survivors.  The excitement was electrifying, but we were paralyzed by fear. 

Several families of our CMs and fellow TLs live in the hardest hit areas of the country.  All of us know somebody that is affected, that this storm is consuming in its path.  We all have family and friends in the path of this storm.  None of us can escape its reach. 

We watched in fear as the waves slammed onto the shore and the waters swallowed the land before our very eyes.  We listened to families who described the winds ripping through homes and the waters rushing forth.  As the storm passed, we discovered that our worst fears had passed as well. 

While hundreds of thousands are without power, none of us here in FEMA Corps have lost those that are closest to us.  Houses can be repaired and rebuilt.  Roads can be cleared and water pumped out. 

The worst of the storm has passed, but there is still more to come as the bands of rain pour in and this superstorm collides with the nor’eastern that is rushing in with the snow. 

I had hoped that the storm would take a turn out to sea, missing our nation and all landfall in North America.  While my hopes were wrong, I am confident in my team, fellow TLs and all those that are serving in FEMA Corps, Traditional NCCC, with the American Red Cross, Coast Guard, and all the Emergency Services around the New England Region. 

I am fortunate to have served alongside these individuals. 

While several Traditional NCCC teams are now serving in shelters up and down the coast, many of us are waiting (not so) patiently for our own service assignments wherever we are needed.  At this point, we still do not know where we will go or what we will do, but we know that we will be making a difference wherever we are. 

God Bless and PEACE


Service, Commitment and the Reasons Why

Just the other night I had an amazing conversation that challenged me to think about everything that I have been doing here in FEMA Corps.  I’ve come to realize that although it’s been a struggle, I would not give this up for anything. 

Service: the action of helping or doing work for someone. 

For me, service is changing someones life.  It doesn’t matter if we get to see the fruits of our labor or not, if the work we do affects the life on a single individual then we are serving. 

We are a society of “here and now” and “immediate results” but so many times we will never see the tangible effects of what we do.  We file away documents into databases that we see as just another pile of files, paper and documents.  What we don’t see are the hundreds of hours that go into pulling this data into a system that shows the history of these disasters, how they were managed, everything that saves lives out in the field. 

I’ve discovered that I will never know the full effect of what I have done and what I will do.  I will never know how many lives I will touch through my journey.  I know this, but to many of “my generation” has not had the opportunity to step back far enough to come to terms with this fact. 

Commitment:  the act of committing, dedication

For me, commitment is something that we pour everything we have into.  It’s something that we give 110% and then more, even if our expectations are not being met. 

Here in FEMA Corps, we have given a ten month commitment to service.  We may not enjoy the work we are doing, but we continue to serve because that is what we came here to do.  We may be having issues within the team, but we work through them because we are striving to build ourselves and each other into leaders. 

We all came here for different reasons.  Some of us wanted the experience.  Others the education award.  The opportunities to work with FEMA.  The personal growth.  And others came here because they had nowhere else to go. 

Each of us has a different definition of Service and Commitment and a different reason of why, but we are all here together.  I know, wherever we go in life, be it in Emergency Management, Disaster Response, the Missions Field, School, wherever your feet and heart lead you, we will face challenges, but it is our drive and commitment to serve that will define who we will become. 

God Bless and PEACE

Expectations of a Wandering Soul

Life is full of expectations that we fill our minds with.  Our society whispers in our ears.  Experiences tell us something different.  We read things and jump to conclusions.  We enter into someplace new and we expect to see things, be treated a certain way, do what we thought we should do.  And how many times are our expectations shattered by reality. 

When I first ventured to the dark continent of Africa, I expected to see the war-torn country side, starving children and lines of refugees in need.  I was warned about the horrors of Africa and the violence that had swept through Uganda.  In my head, I was picturing bands of roving soldiers, shouldering AK-47s and RPGs as I worked in a small medical clinic surrounded by those in need. 

The reality of the situation struck me across the face harder than the shock of stepping out into the humidity and heat.  In a way, the truth was harsher than all my fears.  We were met by hundreds of reaching hands of children, laughter and celebration.  We were surrounded by immense beauty and utter darkness. 

My expectations fell to pieces in those first few days as I began to take each day as they came.  I knew I couldn’t expect anything because God had other plans. 

When I returned to Africa the following year, again I brought expectations of what I would be doing, what I would see.  I expected to venture back into that darkness that threatened to swallow the light.  I expected to be able to tell the stories of the crew aboard the M/V Africa Mercy as I worked beside them, serving them. 

Again I was floored by the humbleness that surrounds service.  Instead of darkness, I found the great light of joy that radiated out of both the crew and those whose lives we touched.  I found then that although I was unable to find the words to tell the stories of the crew, I found the voice of my own soul that cried out to tell a story of its own. 

I returned to the states and immediately set out on a new adventure with AmeriCorps.  Where I expected to find myself lost within my own struggle of adjusting from my time overseas, I found individuals who had never been away  from home.  I was a pillar of strength for them, just as they grounded me in reality. 

As the storms of summer swept through the midwest, my expectations for the year, rejoining the fire management team, were swept away with the rushing winds that slammed into St. Louis and Joplin.  And even my expectations of those disasters were crushed by the endless fields of devastation that I found myself in. 

I had expectations that people had the same work ethic as I did when I joined the workforce this past year. 

I expected to be able to comprehend my journey into words.

I expected others to understand all that I had seen and been through. 

And yet even after all of my prior expectations had been shattered, I entered into this year with AmeriCorps*NCCC – FEMA Corps filled with expectations.  And like a slap in the face, time and time again, these expectations come crashing back to reality. 

I have found myself laying there at night, questioning myself time and time again.  I look at my team and ask myself if I truly have the courage to lead. 

I don’t know what I expected this year.  I expected it to be easy, but each day it is a struggle to rise in the morning and face the day with enough encouragement to keep my team from falling apart under the stress that we find ourselves in.  I expected to find the same people tha work on the Denver campus here in the Southern Region, but the brutal reality is that each campus is different, run under a different set of their own expectations.  The program may be the same, but the people are like night and day. 

I am brutally honest with myself because I know that I cannot keep up the lie that everything will run smoothly.  The road is full of potholes, rocks and speed bumps (and I’m not just talking about the road leading to my housing).  There is, and will always be, struggles that we must face, but most of them, if not all, will be found within ourselves. 

In the past several years I have found one expectation that has never changed, and that I will keep with me until my time here fades away:  God will guide my feet to where I am supposed to be.

We will always have expectations, its human nature, but we must learn to see past them and take thing for what and how they are, not how we want them to be.  When we are finally able to do that, our eyes will be opened. 

God Bless and PEACE

Released Into the Night

A week ago we left the hollowed training grounds of Anniston, AL and scattered across the nation.  The night before we departed, the Team Leaders (TLs) gathered for an evening of reflection, encouragement, and release of all the stress that had come between us over the 11 weeks of training. 

Put on by none other than Carolanne (above), we each had the opportunity to cover a floating lantern with words of encouragement, frustration, and release before we ventured out, away from the 210+ Corps Members (CMs), to release them from our control. 

After a short reflection that reminded us of how much we relied and will continue to rely on one another, we lit the fires and watched as 22 lanterns lifted into the air (the 21 TLs and one of our Unit Leaders (ULs) that had become a part of our team).

In releasing the lanterns into the sky, we released all of our stress, our frustrations with one another, all our disappointments and dreams.  We let them go, soaring into the sky and watched as they rose into the darkness.

As they became pinpoints and eventually disappeared from sight, we stood there as a single team, a family undivided.  Nothing can get in the way of the love that we have for one another, and after two months of living with them, no matter how much they irritate me, I know that I could not continue on without them at my side. 

God Bless and PEACE

When Life Gets Rough

I have been constantly amazed at the resiliency, determination and courage of those who fall under my command.  Over the past four weeks, we have charged headlong into trainings and preparing for our adventure out into the fields of work. 

Today marked our first day in twenty-five days that we have had a day to ourselves without having to work, move or be on call for immediate response to work (15 minute reporting time). 

Just over three weeks ago, we graduated from Corps Training Institute (CTI) and were the first ever Corps Members inducted into FEMA Corps.  It was a day of celebration that involved a Leadership Breakfast, Press Conferences, Media, and various other activities that prevented us from focusing all our energy into the tasks of preparing and packing for an additional two weeks in Anniston, AL. 

We arrived the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP), hesitant and not knowing what to expect after hearing horror stories of how strict the instructors and security were supposed to be.  We began the delicate game of witnessing how flexible each of us could be as we found ourselves on call, having to be willing and able to respond at a moments notice. 

After the first couple days of complete and utter chaos, we found ourselves in the presence of amazing individuals that had knowledge beyond anything that we could have ever imagined or experienced.  The instructors had real world experience that echoed throughout their stories as they willingly poured their lives into ours. 

At times, we did get frustrated when we went over the same information for the second, third or fourth time.  It was hard to hear that our position (Individual Assistance) was not highly recognized as one of the best positions to enter into, like Community Relations.  It was difficult to sit there at a desk, witnessing death by power-point. 

In the end, we survived and scattered to the winds once again.  Teams departed across the country, from NOLA and Baton Rouge to West Virginia and Pennsylvania, Mississippi to Georgia, and every where between.  We left behind friends, family that we have come to love, and charged recklessly into the unknown. 

My team, Ocean 7, found ourselves on the outskirts of Atlanta as we found ourselves working with the Voluntary Agency Liaisons (VALs) and Reports Specialists at the Region IV headquarters based out of the city.  We were not trained for what we are currently doing, but we have adapted and become, as some people call it, “FEMA flexible.” 

Our housing situation took some time to get used to, living in cabins with no running water, stove or highly used cooking supplies.  We found ourselves battling the darkness of night, traffic commutes into and out of the city, little critters (bugs and rodents) and our own selfish need for something more civilized. 

We found our breaking point.  As one of my CMs stated “You can only be so flexible before you snap.”  Each of us has found that point, as some of them broke down, experienced panic attacks, and lost focus on what really mattered. 

And yet, somehow we found the strength in one another to rise up from these hardships and become something more, something stronger than before. 

As the skies cleared and the morning came, we found ourselves refreshed, awakened by something more powerful than words.  Our eyes have been opened to the possibilities that our situation holds. 

This morning, after sleeping in, we had the opportunity to experience the sacred tradition of West African Drums and Dance, an experience that opened us up to something within ourselves.  It was a joy to watch my team smile, genuinely smile for the first time in weeks, as they learned the notes on Djembe, the rhythms of times so long ago, the flow of something within. 

We may not be living in the Hilton Inn, but the accommodations provided by Youth Villages had become a blessing that I had never imagined. 

We may not find ourselves in the situations that we enjoy, but we know that our hearts and our lives have been connected through this experience.  We are a team that has come to rely on the strengths of one another as we face each day with the uncertainty of the next, but the courage of all those who stand behind and beside us in our journey. 

God Bless and PEACE

[Note:  Again, sorry for the weeks of no posts.  Internet is a rare commodity and sometimes it is hard to come by.  I hope to get better at updating throughout the year, but I can make no promises.  If I can learn to be flexible, so can you.]