Monday, July 28, 2014

Six Things I’ve Learned as a FEMA Corps Team Leader

Nicole served as a FEMA Corps team leader at the AmeriCorps NCCC Southern Region campus. She shares her thoughts on team leading, service, and what it means to give back in today's post.

This year I started reading Thought Catalog, and many of their articles are titled things like, “47 Things You Must Do Before You Turn 24.” Some of them are about college and jobs, while others are personal reflections on life experiences that have impacted a person for the better or worse. I started to think on my own personal reflection in the style of Thought Catalog. So here is, “Six Things I've Learned as a FEMA Corps Team Leader.”

Nicole clearing debris after a disaster
1. In the words of one of my corps members, Don’t Just Hear, Listen. My corps members told me this all the time. It became a running joke, but the more I was reminded of it, the more I was inclined to listen rather than just hear my team. I needed to learn to take in everything they said, and everything that they did while they said it. Listening implies that you have sought meaning and understanding. Hearing is when you choose to repeat something back to someone and are not truly getting any information. I choose to seek understanding.

2. Give yourself credit. Even on your toughest days, you've accomplished far more than you think. Each day as a team leader can be an uphill battle. From the moment you wake up and kick over the cup of water you left on the floor, to the time you go to bed at night and realize you submitted an important piece of paperwork and didn't actually fill out the most important part. In service, as in life, sometimes it can feel like you aren't always winning. The fact is, we can’t always win. But it’s the investment you make in the small things that makes every moment worthwhile. It’s the moment when a disaster survivor says ‘thank you for all you do. We’re glad you’re here.’ It’s when your team sees a movie and you all laugh at the same parts. It’s when you plan a surprise party, when you’re not even a little bit sneaky, and it's still a surprise. Those are the times when you win.

Ocean 6 taking a break from a weekend service project
3. Roll with it. Not everything can be covered in training. It’s funny. If it’s not funny, give it a week, if it’s still not funny, I hope you called your Unit Leader a week ago.

 4. This year will stay with you for your entire life. These memories are what you make of them. Your team will become your family, and the way that you treat them will always matter. I've told my team this more than once - everyone is important, treat them as such. All people are worth the investment.

5. Embrace the change. Reject stagnancy. We have all made positive change over the course of our service term. We all walked onto our campus as very different people. Nicole from ten months ago and the woman writing this are two very different people. I hope that a year from now I have continued this forward momentum and grown even more. I hope that each member of the corps seeks out adventures of the highest caliber. You deserve nothing less than the best.

6. Service really is what life is all about. It is the question and the answer we can all hope to give. At points throughout the year, I remembered one of the first things I heard from my Unit Leader Justin. He asked, “What is your definition of service?” I've reflected many times on this question, and I always come back to Justin's answer, “Service is when you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” 

Nicole and her team, Ocean 6 at
FEMA Corps graduation
I have found myself reflecting on this statement often throughout the year. Each day, I urge you to reflect on this. When was the last time you truly served? When was the last time you genuinely gave, be it your time, your strength, or anything else, selflessly to someone who could never repay you? On the days you cannot answer this question, I urge you even more to find a way to serve, to continue what you have started. Don’t stop trying to make this world a better place. I urge you to see the positive changes you have made in yourself, love the person you have become, recognize your successes. You are more than enough. Keep these bonds you have created. Continue to grow and move forward. 

One of my favorite poets, Andrea Gibson, writes, “Become the door that opens, that keeps the people hoping, and don’t just point the way, become the path that leads them there, because if you’re gonna change the world, you've got to start with you.”

Nicole graduated from FEMA Corps this summer and has started working at a summer camp in Holmes, New York.  After finishing up her time there, she will be heading off to Sacramento to complete a year of service as a traditional NCCC Team Leader. For more information about AmeriCorps NCCC and FEMA Corps, please visit:

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Dedication to Service

AmeriCorps is honoring active duty military personnel and veterans throughout July. Daniel is an AmeriCorps NCCC team leader and a veteran of the United States Navy. 

Dan while serving in the U.S. Navy
When I was 17 I decided to graduate high school early for no other reason than to get the heck out. The idea of joining the military was always on my mind, but I had trouble making the commitment. With only weeks left before graduating one year early, I joined the United States Navy. I told myself it was to gain discipline, I told myself it was to find responsibility, but the truth was that it just made sense. In October 2004, just 5 months after graduating high school I left home and began my dedication in service to others. I went on to serve in Japan on the USS Kitty Hawk CV-63, then on to Washington to finish up on-board the USS Abraham Lincoln CNV-72.

Dan and the USS Kitty Hawk CV-63
My experiences while in the Navy were unlike anything else I had ever known in my life. I met men and women who would become my family. The bond between two veterans or active duty military personnel is unlike anything that could ever be explained in words. It’s a feeling of pride and thankfulness. It’s a feeling of joy and community. It’s a feeling that someone else gets what you are going through or what you have gone through unlike any person back home. It’s a bond so immense and strong that no amount of brute force or herculean strength could tear it apart. It is a bond so emotional that without a second thought, you would throw yourself into the grips of certain death if it meant you could save your brothers and sisters from harm or worse. 

When a regular, everyday person watches a war movie and the men dying in each scene they say “Wow, what a wonderful movie. What bravery those men had.” When I watch the same movie I can feel the bullets, smell the blood, and soon I can feel the very real tears behind my eyes. Serving is not just a portion of a persons life, it very much becomes who they are. You do not choose to serve, service chooses you because it is you, and it will always be you. Once it is you, then soon it is all that ever makes you happy. I joined the US Navy because I love to serve. It is the only thing that makes sense to me or ever has made sense to me. Service makes me happy and fulfilled, joyful and vibrant.

Dan and his team member on an
environmental restoration project
It was my time in the Navy being a part of something much larger than me that led me to AmeriCorps. I separated from the Navy on October 24, 2010 and I began to work as a commercial HVAC technician. It was fun and interesting for a while, but it did not make me happy. Soon I began to explore what possibilities were open for me and I discovered college. I quit my job and my profession and went on to become a full time college student at 25 years old. I continued to search out areas in which I could continue to serve, one of those being the President of the Student Veteran Organization at University of Cincinnati-Clermont. I found anything I could do to serve and eventually even found myself knocking on doors as a campaigner in the 2012 presidential election. 

Dan and his team, Delta 7
Shortly after, by accident I discovered AmeriCorps NCCC through a friend who had served in Class 18B. He filled me in on the details and what it was, what he had done and how I could join. It didn't take much convincing; in fact it took no convincing at all. The moment I realized what it was, I had created an application online and applied to two positions. After one wait list I received a call and was soon thereafter offered a position as a team leader in Class 20 NCCC in the Southern Region. I was proud and excited. I was also pompous and thought it would be a cake walk. This couldn't be further from the truth. I quickly discovered you cannot order 18-24 year-olds like they are in the military, and you must adapt your leadership style to the people of your team. I was so used to the very direct way of speaking and way of life that I had quite a few rude awakenings as to how to become a successful leader. So I am now six months in and I am still learning, but I am so very happy with what I have done. I have made my mistakes and corrected my leadership styles. Here I sit tired as I have ever been and worked to the bone, but I am happy and I am serving. 

The military prepared me for my service to others, and AmeriCorps has prepared me in my service to myself, my community and my team. AmeriCorps has led me to make a difference in my country and the opportunity give back so much more. It has developed me exponentially both mentally and physically. This program has opened my eyes and my heart to a whole other era of service.  

For more information about AmeriCorps NCCC's support of veterans and military families, or to apply to serve with AmeriCorps NCCC or FEMA Corps, please visit

Friday, July 18, 2014

What's Going On At NCCC?

AmeriCorps NCCC's new
National Director, José Phillips
Great things are happening at AmeriCorps NCCC!  This week was busy with activity as we welcomed the new National Director of NCCC, José Phillips and hosted a meeting of the AmeriCorps NCCC Advisory Board.  It was a great opportunity for existing and new board members to meet our leadership and chart a course for AmeriCorps NCCC moving forward.

Our new National Director, José Phillips, was most recently the Region Director of the Pacific Region Campus in Sacramento, California since 2010.  His campus experience will be a great asset as he takes the helm of the national AmeriCorps NCCC program.  Prior to his work with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), he spent 24 years with the California Conservation Corps, a program dedicated to youth development in academic education, environmental resource conservation, and community enhancement through volunteerism.   We welcome José to Washington, DC as he takes the reins to AmeriCorps NCCC, a program that “gets things done” for communities across the country.   

The AmeriCorps NCCC Advisory Board, with CNCS CEO Wendy Spencer, former National Director Kate Raftery, and current National Director José Phillips

The AmeriCorps NCCC Advisory Board was engaged in lively discussion at its summer meeting and welcomed new board members including Richard Serino, retired Deputy Administrator for FEMA.  The Board was pleased to have former Senator Harris Wofford (PA) present the President’s Lifetime Service Award to former National AmeriCorps NCCC Director Kate Raftery and former Board Member Martin Rogers.  These two individuals were honored for their involvement in advancing the AmeriCorps NCCC program and supporting service members throughout the country. 

As AmeriCorps NCCC prepares to celebrate its 20th Anniversary in September, two campuses will be graduating Class 20 this month.  On July 24, the Pacific Region will host its graduating class in Sacramento, California.  On July 29, the Southwest Region will host its graduating class at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver, Colorado.  We congratulate these members on their accomplishments as they embark on carrying their commitment of service this year and beyond.

Are you interested in serving with NCCC, but haven't yet applied? Apply for NCCC and FEMA Corps at! Let us know if you have any questions by emailing 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Finding A Way to Serve Others

This month, we are honoring veterans and current military personnel. Bryan is an AmeriCorps NCCC corps member from the Pacific Region, and is also a veteran of the Army National Guard. 

Bryan's unit at Forward Operating Base training
As a young kid, I always admired the way soldiers were respected and had a sense of nobility about them.  Some of my family members served in the Armed Forces back in Ecuador, and as little kid I would always look at their pictures and imagine myself in their uniforms.  As I got older my ambition to join grew stronger by the year.

At the beginning of my junior year in high school, a military school contacted me and accepted my registration. On April 21, 2010, I began military school for 6 months. During that time I was trained physically and mentally while also going to school to get my GED. After I graduated from military school, I waited 2 months until I turned 17 and was able to enlist in the Armed Forces.
I enlisted on April 21, 2011 under the U.S. Army/National Guard branch. I joined with an E2 (PVT. 2nd class) and was one of the youngest soldiers in my battalion.  I went to basic training for 2 months in Oklahoma, and did AIT (Advanced Individual Training) which was 91C (HVAC training) for 3 months in Virginia.  After that, I joined my unit, and about 3 months later, I was shipped off to Kuwait for 4 months working at the FOB (Forward Operating Base).

My experience there was eye-opening for me.  It was great meeting new battle buddies (a term we use to call other fellow soldiers), but it wasn't easy.  I lost close friends, and saw how hard war and conflict could be.  My experience in the Army was so influential to me that even after I left I still wanted to serve and help those in need.

Bryan's team, Silver 3
Through AmeriCorps NCCC, I am able to accomplish that goal.  In my position as a VST (Vehicle, Safety & Tools), I am able to use my prior military experience and skills whenever needed.  Because of this, my service as a corps member and VST are of extra value and I feel comfortable contributing in these ways. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

From Air Force to AmeriCorps

Throughout July, AmeriCorps is honoring veterans and active military personnel. Vaughn Cottman is a veteran of the United States Air Force and Army, and currently serves as a Unit Leader with the AmeriCorps NCCC Southwest Region.

AmeriCorps NCCC Southwest Region
Unit Leader Vaughn Cottman
In AmeriCorps NCCC’s 20 year history, change has been nothing short of the norm, but a few
things manage to stay the same. One of those is Sun Unit Leader Vaughn Cottman. To those at the Southwest Region campus in Denver, Colorado, Vaughn is an institution. Corps members, team leaders, and staff alike all know when they hear “How y’all doin’?” that Vaughn can’t be far away.  But what they might not know is the extensive background this veteran has, both as a part of NCCC and the United States Military.

Growing up in North Carolina, with a father who served 26 years in the military, Vaughn followed his friends and family members before him and joined the US Air Force in 1971.

“Being raised in a military town, joining is what you did.  The culture of the military is so ingrained in you that it’s the natural next step after high school,” Vaughn said.

After jumping out of planes at military bases in South Carolina, Guam, and Florida for four years, Vaughn took a break from the military in 1976.  In 1978 Vaughn re-enlisted, this time with the US Army as a nurse.  For the next 15 years, Vaughn served in Greece, Korea, and the states teaching nursing before retiring from the Army in 1993.

At this point, Vaughn had started hearing about AmeriCorps and National Service.  He remembers, “As someone who did a lot of service when I was younger, and was interested in government, and anything community oriented, it seemed like I would have a natural fit with service.”

When Vaughn heard about an AmeriCorps NCCC campus opening in the Denver area, he jumped at the opportunity to join this new program. “Those first few years, we were building the bike while riding it.  It was beneficial to have a military background for me, to be able to give directives and organize groups of young people. There was a real military foundation here; the way the program is organized and founded on is very reminiscent of the military." Back then many staff members, including the National Director, were ex-military, and Vaughn says that really helped mold each campus and the corps into the program we have today, which aims to join the best of the military with the best of civilian life.

Vaughn with Sun Unit team leaders
Twenty years later Vaughn has seen the Southwest Campus change locations, a handful of new National and Regional Directors come and go, and thousands of corps members and team leaders serve communities and develop as leaders through AmeriCorps NCCC. As new classes come in Vaughn laughs and says, “It’s always interesting to see new faces, but I’m starting to feel my age!... But I’ve always felt my experience in this program has been a benefit to the program and this campus. Being here since the beginning, I can offer what’s been done in the past, and try to come up with solutions going forward." 

As Class 20A traditional corps nears graduation, Vaughn remarks, “I’m still here because I love working with young people, and having service be a part of it all is just a bonus. This is the age group that I worked with in the military, and this is the age group I continue to enjoy working with."

For more information about AmeriCorps NCCC's support of veterans and military families, or to apply to serve with AmeriCorps NCCC or FEMA Corps, please visit

Monday, June 30, 2014

Why Do You Serve?

AmeriCorps NCCC members from the Pacific Region share their service stories. 

NCCC Destiny Kathleen

Gold 6 teammates pose for a photo while
doing habitat restoration work at the
Presidio of San Francisco. 
The first time I heard about AmeriCorps NCCC I was in middle school.  As a 14 year old trying to complete an assignment on college searches, I had no idea what I was looking for.  Maybe it was fate, but that day I learned about an organization whose sole purpose it was to help people in need. I remember the feeling I had at the time as I skimmed the webpage – pure adrenaline and unbridled optimism.  This is it, I thought, this is what I need to do with my life…as soon as I’m old enough, that is.

By the time I was old enough, 18 years old, graduating at the top of my high school class, and college bound, AmeriCorps had completely dropped off my radar.  I was off to do great things.  I was going to study hard and become the greatest psychologist, or maybe neuroscientist, or maybe engineer, or maybe social worker.  After four years, I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Neuroscience, with honors, Magna Cum Laude, etc.  I was very proud of myself, but as I looked toward graduate school, I realized that even though I had a degree, I still had no idea what I wanted to do.  I knew that I wanted to make a difference, but I didn’t know how.  The last 16 years of education had shown me that I was a phenomenal student, but I wanted to know if there was anything else I could be good at.  Also, I was kind of tired of thinking about myself.  Planning every aspect of my life and constantly judging my worth based on test scores was getting really old.  I wanted to learn to see myself as an extension of the effect I had on others.

So, while I halfheartedly searched for graduate school programs, somehow, miraculously, AmeriCorps NCCC reappeared in my search results.  As I browsed the recruitment materials, the same feelings of excitement and purpose that I had experienced in middle school all came rushing back.  The time wasn’t right when I was 14, but at 22 just finishing college and unsure what my next step should be, the timing was perfect.  I was always passionate about helping people. I thought that if service was everyone’s ultimate goal in life, then the world would be a much better place. 

Being a corps member in AmeriCorps NCCC has been an immensely valuable experience for me because it has expanded my perspective on what it means to serve.  Sometimes service is distributing food to the homeless, and sometimes service is helping an understaffed non-profit accomplish their mission and goals – whether that’s feeding or housing people in need, repairing a hiking trail, or planting grass.  Regardless of the form of service, one thing that is consistently true is that it always matters to the people who need it most. 

I applied for AmeriCorps NCCC because I wanted to make a connection to the people around me and in doing so, maybe learn a thing or two about the world beyond my classroom walls and textbooks.  NCCC has not let me down.  I know that service is something I can continue throughout my life, no matter where I am, as long as I am paying attention to the needs of those around me.  I look forward to carrying my commitment to service with me, this year and beyond because I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done!

Summer of ServiceCymone

Left - Cymone in AmeriCorps NCCC 
Summer of Service 2007
Right- in AmeriCorps NCCC Class XX
The first time I heard about NCCC was at the age of fifteen. My mom came home one day and told me about this program recruiting teenagers to do community service during the summer in my hometown of New Orleans. She told me that it was called AmeriCorps NCCC Summer of Service, and that I'd receive a small stipend for my work if I decided to join. I had never been to a summer camp before so I thought it would be something like that. I'd get to live in a college dorm and work with others my age for a month; "Why not?" I thought. Little did I know that summer would change my life and introduce me to people and concepts that I'd never experienced before.

I was assigned to a group of 7 others my age to team Jazz 2. We wore bright yellow AmeriCorps shirts, khaki BDUs, and what I remember thinking as really hard core work boots. We had two team leaders (NCCC corps members) and my team and I did a variety of projects ranging from park clean ups, to painting over graffiti, to landscape work at a local nonprofit. It was the hardest I'd ever worked in my life doing something that wasn't household chores. My team leaders told us about NCCC and the work that they did as adults in the Corps. I admired how dedicated they were to service and their genuine interest in helping communities. At the end of our term we all received the president’s community service award and said our goodbyes at graduation.

Although the program was only a few short weeks I had learned how to work with others and the importance of having a positive attitude no matter what job we were assigned to do. I remember promising myself that I would continue to be a community servant wherever I went and that I would join NCCC again when I was of age.

Six years later, I am now a corps member at the AmeriCorps NCCC Pacific Region. I decided to join this program not only because of my history with NCCC, but because I knew that I wanted to dedicate myself fully to service after my college graduation. I wanted to experience working on service projects for longer than a weekend here or there and seeing the fruits of my labor that would continue for years to follow. NCCC has definitely been all that I hoped it would be and more. It has challenged me more than anything ever has and the growth that I've experienced this year has already given me the courage to be the community leader I have always wanted to be. I will always be thankful to AmeriCorps NCCC for introducing me to service all those years ago and teaching me more about service than I could ever learn in a classroom.

My NCCC StoryKeshia

Keshia at the Fresno River Trail
Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” While applying for AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), I knew I wanted to make a difference through volunteering and community service. I have always had the motivation to help those who are less fortunate than me or to do service on a project that could bring out a positive light to the community and continue them to grow as one. I knew this program would be a good opportunity for me to immerse myself into the community service world, to gain new skills and abilities that I thought I could never achieve and to develop new relationships within the program. During this journey, I have experienced a lot of new things and seen many new places. There are definitely going to be some fond memories that I will have for the rest of my life.

Silver 4 (awesome team members) 
at Yosemite! 
It was my very first time traveling to California and experiencing my first airplane ride, which wasn't too bad; I just had a little earache for a week. In California, I served on two projects in Santa Clara and Auberry. I had the chance to work at different parks with the Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation during round one, and worked on about four trails with the San Joaquin River Gorge-Bureau of Land Management in Auberry during round two. I learned how to use new tools while working on the trails, such as the Pulaski and a McLeod.

With the Mono Tribe, finish construction 
of the Nobi (tepee)
At the San Joaquin River Gorge, there was also a chance for my team to learn about the history of the Native Americans there, especially the Mono Tribe. We had the chance to meet Keith Turner and other members of the tribe during a construction of a Nobi. That was the best experience I had throughout my time of service. It was interesting to learn more about the Mono people and to actually build a Nobi from scratch. Round two was a personal growth experience for me and a challenge, but I persevered. Through my specialty roles, Life after AmeriCorps Representative and lead Media Representative, I have accomplished my goals and developed new skills in journalism and mentoring. I am so proud of myself and happy that I can use these skills for my life after AmeriCorps.

Keshia using the skill saw,
sawing wood for the
boat house to stack canoes
AmeriCorps NCCC has provided me with so many new opportunities and new experiences that I am able to carry on with me for the rest of my life. This program has made me want to continue my service in helping others. I might consider serving another year of AmeriCorps or join the Peace Corps, a program that I always wanted to join along with AmeriCorps NCCC. My mission in life is to help others, travel the world, and continue to experience different ethnic backgrounds and cultures in the world. I also want to Witness how the other half lives and continue to be open-minded about everything. Volunteerism and service work are important to do; you really do find yourself while serving others, and you can take what you learn to other places or organizations. I want to thank AmeriCorps NCCC for giving me the chance and opportunity to be part of this growing organization.

Are you interested in serving with NCCC, but haven't yet applied? Apply for NCCC and FEMA Corps at! Let us know if you 
                                                     have any questions by emailing 

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Waiting Game Part 6 - The Journey Begins

This month we're talking to members about what they're doing with their time while waiting to begin serving with AmeriCorps NCCC and FEMA Corps. Jacklyn will arrive at the Pacific Region this October to serve as a corps member with NCCC.

Jacklyn after graduating from
USF this past spring
Hey everyone! My name is Jacklyn. I was born and raised in central Florida and I was selected to serve in AmeriCorps NCCC with the Pacific Region in Sacramento, California. I will be traveling across the country in order to gain the experience of a lifetime. I recently graduated from the University of South Florida with my bachelor of arts in anthropology.

So why AmeriCorps NCCC? After graduating I was not really sure what I wanted to do. I thought about doing many things, and all I knew is that I wanted to be able to help others. I gained my passion for service while working alongside the organization Camp Fire USA. I have been volunteering with them since I was in middle school, and they really helped to inspire me to give back to the community. I participated in 7 week long service learning road trips where I actually had the privilege of working with an NCCC team and a variety of different non-profit organizations. This is where I discovered the program and figured that I would want to be a part of it someday. Now is the perfect time for me to be a part of such an incredible organization because I have graduated college and have time to figure out just what I want to do for the rest of my life. AmeriCorps NCCC can help in laying the foundation for this.

Camp Fire USA members in Monterey, California
at the National Youth Forum
So what exactly am I going to do while I am waiting to serve America? I plan on spending a lot of quality time with my family and friends, doing things like playing darts and cornhole with my parents, or going to the beach, movies, or theme parks with my friends. I am also going on a week-long cruise right before I leave for AmeriCorps NCCC. I want to have many adventures while I still can, discovering the world, creating new experiences, and making memories for a lifetime.

Jacklyn and her family on vacation
I am so honored and excited to have the opportunity to be a part of AmeriCorps NCCC. I cannot wait to have the experience of helping those in need while making new memories, friends, and experiences along the way. I love that I am going to have the chance to travel our country and make connections with organizations that are doing such great things for it. See you soon sunny California and fellow corps members! 

Are you interested in serving with NCCC, but haven't yet applied? Apply for NCCC and FEMA Corps at! Let us know if you have any questions by emailing

Brought to you by AmeriCorps NCCC, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
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