As the year comes to a close, many people (including myself) have been looking back and reflecting on where we have been in the past 12 months. This year has been full of memories, emotions, and amazing people that have both stood beside me and supported me in this journey. As I look back, that is what I have come to realize has been my blessing this year: people.
While my journey has taken me across the nation this year with AmeriCorps (both FEMA Corps and the St Louis Emergency Response Team (AC STL ERT)) I have also received the opportunity to travel abroad with family, visit friends, and continue to develop my art. The following images are a reflection of where I’ve been, the people who have stood beside me, and the craziness that this adventure has allowed me to take part in.
I started this year returning to Vicksburg, MS to finish my year with inaugural class of AmeriCorps*NCCC FEMA Corps (Class XIX). The Team Leaders (TLs) were more than friends and coworkers, but a family that constantly evolved, growing closer together with every moment.
And then there was my amazing team, Ocean 7. We were an eccentric bunch from all over the place. While it was rough at times, we pulled together to brave the worst of storms. Without them and their support I would have lost whatever sanity I had left.
For the first several months of the year, my team (along with the entirety of FEMA Corps at the time) was deployed back up to New York City in response to Superstorm Sandy. It was a trying time for all of us as we ended up jumping from one location to another before landing to assist at Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) #41 in Staten Island. There we learned the finite points of case management through hands on experience. We remained there for just over a month before making our way back to the Vicksburg campus.
On our way down, we stopped at my parents house just south of Washington, DC and spent a day exploring the monuments and museums. I spent the day with an amazing friend and began a relationship that warmed my heart and got me through some of the roughest moments of AmeriCorps and the months afterwards. While our paths have gone in separate directions, our time together taught me so much about living to the fullest, chasing after dreams, finding where you stand, and the definition of love.
After returning from NYC, my team spent the rest of the year up at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, MD. There we assisted with revamping and editing trainings, participating in simulations, and enjoying the (almost) stress free environment. We had fun exploring the local area, finding Independent Service Projects, and volunteering our time throughout the community.
Almost each time we traveled back and forth between campus and NYC or Emmitsburg (4 of the 5 times) we stopped and stayed in Bristol, TN. We discovered our favorite restaurant, Alfredo’s Italian and Mediterranean Cuisine, our first time and continued to visit each night after spending what seemed like hours in the van. Each time the owner inquired where we were going and we had an excellent relationship with them as we spent the remainder of our food budget and they graciously served us and often times would throw in an extra treat for the team.
The great thing about AmeriCorps is that even though you have your individual teams and programs, when it comes down to push and shove, we all stand together. I saw that (figuratively) with FEMA Corps and NCCC when tragedy struck our community. I learned that if we don’t know how to stand together, then the weight of the system and society will crush us one by one. Without that community, our experience would have crippled each one of us.
We finished the year together and soon found ourselves heading out in separate directions. Some were returning to school. Others joined other AmeriCorps programs throughout the nation. And others began their pursuit of higher education.
As a parting gift, I awoke to find my car decorated by some of my Corps Members. Of course, I smiled and threatened to kill them with kindness. (On that same note, for all the ERT people out there, I’m going to name my next Crumpet Stick “Kindness”)
Soon after returning home (N. Virginia) I set up a small studio space in my parents basement and dove into creating art. The first step was building just about a dozen canvases of various sizes. I cut and assembled each one, which may seem like a time consuming process (which it is) but it’s more fulfilling this way.
Over a period of a couple months, I added nine new paintings to my portfolio and still had several canvases left over which traveled with me to St Louis at the end of the summer.
Somewhere in there, I made my way over to Scotland with the Kerr Clan. I hadn’t seen some of my cousins in years, so it was good to catch up and spend time with them. We headed into the highlands and discovered the beauty of our ancestors.
We even set sail over one of the lochs (read: lake). It was fun to watch and see the family interact with one another. Even after all these years, we are still discovering things about one another.
As proof that I was there, I took a selfie. The bridge in the background is the bridge used in the Harry Potter films every time the Hogwart’s Express is seen heading across the countryside.
I got to spend some invaluable time with my father, grandpa, and brother. While the rest of the immediate family wasn’t able to make it to Scotland, they were waiting for us when we returned.
When we returned from our overseas adventure, my sister, niece and nephew were waiting for us. So, what do you do with two year olds? You take ’em to the zoo of course! And you play. A lot. And run around. Play some more. And attempt to get a nap every once in a while. No matter how much these little guys wear me out physically, I always come away refreshed!
My sister even managed to pull me out onto a small photoadventure. She saw a hawk just sitting on the side of the road enjoying his lunch, so of course she had to run get her camera.
As the summer came to a close, the family headed down to Edisto, SC where we braved the weather, got some amazing photos of the storms, and spent more time together! We spent the week relaxing, reading, riding the waves in our sit-on-top kayaks, and playing music at night. One evening, we headed out on a dolphin tour and caught the leading edge of the storm as we were still out on the water (above).
I headed out directly from Edisto and began a road trip out to St. Louis. On my way there, I stopped at my Alma Mater (Anderson University) to catch up with professors, spent the night at my cousins place in Clemson, stopped by Athens to visit Grandparents (and my sister, again, as she was heading out to Louisiana). After another stop in Vicksburg to help with trainings, I made my way south to the beautiful city of New Orleans. There I caught up with one the FEMA Corps TLs and good friend and we explored the city (and the St Louis Cemeteries).
I even stopped long enough to get a tattoo at Hell or High Water Tattoo. In commemoration of my time in Uganda several years ago, I got the trips motto, “We Live, We Love” inked on my wrist.
After another short stop in Joplin, MO, I made my way to St Louis to join another crazy group of individuals. We are an interesting bunch with our own quirks and oddities, but immediately we became family, as many of us are living with one another (15 people in 2 apartments?! Mine only has 4).
And immediately, we began to pack. In the chaos, we learned that we had to be ready at a moments notice and began to find what we truly needed, and what could be left behind. Essentials include: both cameras, extra film, water bottles, and extra toilet paper.
Between Quest and our travels out to Montana, we instantly became a close knit family. In Montana, we wet up the Yurt (above) and crammed 19 people in it. We experienced beautiful mornings, blistery winter winds, and snow like I have never seen before.
While up in Montana, we had several adventures working on conservation projects around Butte. We even had the opportunity to take part in the S-212 Wildland Chainsaw course where we each got the opportunity to fell a tree and be critiqued. While I was hoping for a B Certification, I realized that I was not that comfortable yet with a saw, so I am content with my A Certification.
Montana is a beautiful place. We received the opportunity to serve out in the wilderness, staying in remote locations, like the USFS Cabin (above).
We shared moments of wonder as we looked out over God’s creation and smiled alongside one another. Above is the crossing over Indian Creek.
While we worked side by side with one another, we also received opportunities to challenge ourselves. While working alongside one of my roommates, we came across a hanging tree that was snagged over the line. As it was a wilderness area (read: no mechanized equipment) we attacked it with a crosscut saw and also fell the tree that it was leaning against.
While it was hard work, we persevered and overcame the challenge. I even became a lumberjack for a short time (note the suspenders).
As you can see, we are a chaotic group that cannot control ourselves when we are having fun (which is always). We have an amazing group of leaders, second and third years, who are willing to share their wealth of knowledge with us.
As we returned to Missouri, we dived into conservation projects throughout the state. From trail maintenance to invasive species removal, fireline construction to spraying weeds, we do it all. While we work in smaller teams, each of us is a unit within something bigger. Like a machine, but much more powerful.
My team also got the chance to participate in two small (5 and 15 acre) burns. And, no. That is not a member of AC STL ERT, that is one of the guys with MDC (I believe).
While here in St. Louis one weekend, my mother came to visit. So, I became a tourist and went exploring. We hit the Arch and then the weather hit us, canceling the rest of our plans (steamboat tour and/or trolley tour). While we did get drenched, we escaped most of the bad weather and were still able to laugh and have some fun.
That same storm front that hit my mom and me under the Arch spawned numerous tornadoes across the mid-west, including the tornado that hit Washington, IL. Several members were deployed in response, to help set up and manage the Volunteer Reception Center (VRC). Over Thanksgiving, instead of hanging out with family and friends, another group of us headed up to Washington, IL to help out. While there, we got the chance to meet and get to know several of the therapy dogs from Therapy Dogs International who visited the VRC and field teams multiple times.
So often we find ourselves looking out and all we see is the fog of the unknown. But if we stop and take a look, we will see that we are surrounded by people in our lives that care for us. We have reached out and impacted so many people, worked beside them, fought with (or against) them, cried with them, or simply shared a smile. We will never know how much we have changed the world through changing the lives of those around us.
So smile and celebrate the blessings that you have received, the challenges you have faced, and all the people in your life. Share your struggles and your story and count yourself blessed. For we are never truly alone in this journey.
God Bless and PEACE