Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Into the Aftermath


"Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good. "
~ Minor Myers, Jr.


Shane and his team, Bayou 6, along with their Unit Leader at their
graduation in June 2013
When people ask me, “Why did you decide to serve with FEMA Corps?”, I tell them about responding to Superstorm Sandy in New York City during late fall 2012.

My reasons for service upon joining the program were vague. I wanted a new experience, to serve communities, and to spend time outside of my home state of Massachusetts. After Sandy struck through, I realized the full value of FEMA Corps member's service, and how the program gave me what I was truly looking for in a service experience.
 
Louisiana Street in Long Beach, NY;
above in Nov. 2012, below in July 2013
Sandy hit the East Coast in early November 2012, only two months into the FEMA Corps program, and during my team’s first service project. My team, Bayou 6, was serving in West Virginia in response to a disaster that had struck earlier that summer. I first heard about Superstorm Sandy when one of my corps members showed me a picture of an entire parking lot full of taxis completely submerged underwater. I knew immediately we would be heading that way soon. We were excited to head to New York City to assist with SuperStorm Sandy relief efforts, but we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. 

 
Our first day in New York was chaotic. All 21 FEMA Corps teams from the Southern Region had bunked in Maryland at the Atlantic Region campus for the night, before traveling the rest of the way into New York. We left the Atlantic Region campus at 6:00am to make our way to FEMA’s Initial Operating Facility in Brooklyn. Many thoughts were running through my mind on that drive. What’s it going to be like there? Will buildings still be standing?  How will my team react to the work? Will I be able to effectively lead my team amid chaos and confusion?  All of these questions would be answered before the day ended, but that morning I remember catching a glimpse of the NYC skyline and hoping I had what it would take to lead my team and assist the thousands of survivors in need of aid.

Michigan Street in Long Beach, NY;
above in Nov. 2012, below in July 2013

After receiving our assignment in Brooklyn, we slowly drove our 15-passenger van through flooded streets to what would be our project site for the next six weeks, the small beach town of Long Beach, NY. 


I will never forget the drive to Long Beach, and the images that remain imprinted in my mind as we made our way to the center of town. After getting through security check points and road blocks, the reality of the destruction set in. A lot of people were going to need our help. Everywhere we looked, homes were destroyed. Debris covered every surface. Side streets were impassable because of debris and giant piles of sand washed in from the beach. Long Beach’s main street reminded me of a ghost town in the Wild West. The street was void of people, and the wind was still blowing sand and debris all around. Looking at my team, I could sense their urgency and knew they were ready to get to work. For the remainder of the day, we canvased the main streets providing information and directing survivors to food, water, and sheltering locations.

Shane with his team, Bayou 6, assisting survivors register
for aid at a DRC in Long Beach, NY
After a week of providing information to survivors door-to-door, we were re-assigned to a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) in a centralized Long Beach location, where we assisted survivors in registering for disaster aid and answered their questions. 
 

The Empire State, docked in the East River
 in the Bronx, New York
We spent every day those first weeks traveling from our housing (a military ship docked in the East River) to Long Beach, and worked between 10-12 hours daily. Every survivor we assisted had a story, and most people had lost almost all of their belongings. Many were living with friends and family or staying in shelters or hotels. In those weeks we meet hundreds of survivors, listening to their stories and sharing in their losses. Those days are the ones I will carry with me.

 

 

Shane working with the Long Beach DRC manager
Responding to Superstorm Sandy in those initial weeks changed the way I view the world. Each day, I saw myself growing as a leader and as a person. I had to push myself outside of my comfort zone, carrying the responsibility not only of assisting survivors, but also for my team and their needs. We supported each other during that time, throughout the year, and they are like a second family to me today. I met some incredible people and lifelong friends during my time in FEMA Corps, and would serve again without hesitation.

 
Bayou 6 enjoying a hike in West Virginia
My FEMA Corps experience helped me to discover a passion for emergency management, which has led me to a career working with FEMA. I am forever grateful for FEMA Corps, and look forward to hearing the stories and experiences of future teams as the program continues to grow and evolve. 

Why did I decide to serve with FEMA Corps? I now know that I hoped to make even a small difference in the world. FEMA Corps helped me to do just that, and inspires me to continue working to make a difference and get things done every day.


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