Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What Did You Do?

A Story: “What Did You Do?”

Jimmy served as a team leader for FEMA Corps Class 20 at the Atlantic Region. His FEMA Corps class graduated on May 22nd, 2014. Below is the text of Jimmy's graduation speech. 

Team leader Jimmy on a hiking trip during his service term.

I’m sure many, if not all of you can relate to exactly what’s going to happen to me when I see my friends and family for the first time in a long time, some even for the first time since joining this program:

“Oh my gosh, I’ve missed you! How was it?”

“It was good, Mom! It was really good”

“That’s awesome! What did you do?”

As we all know, that is a complicated question. One that no one can fully understand until they’ve been on this incredible, intense, once-sometimes twice-in a lifetime journey called FEMA Corps. But it seems like a simple enough question. “What did you do?”

“Well, Mother, I traveled to and through 15 states, supervised and befriended 9 incredible people, worked over 2,000 hours, had 25,893 beneficiaries, conducted 12 outreach events, submitted 26,770 applications, shredded over 10,000 files – actually… how about I just give you a copy of my quantifiables?”

“Your what?”

“My quantifiables, Mom! I know your computer says it’s not a real word, but it has to be because I do them every day!”

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Jimmy’s crazy. He’s going to snap on his poor mother just for asking what quantifiables means. But you know what... Yes, I probably am. For those of you who don’t know, quantifiables are a way that our teams keep track of the accomplishments that we have had throughout our round. And Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize “quantifiables” as a real word.

But in all seriousness, this question is going to follow us around for months after we leave this program. “What did you do?” Those quantifiables are a fantastic way to show staff and FEMA and anyone else who is interested how many disaster kits we have assembled, how many donations the warehouse we worked in received, and how many people we assisted in disaster areas. But what those quantifiables don’t tell you are the stories that we have. And boy, do we all have stories to tell.

We have stories to tell about rocking out in our 15-passenger vans to 90s pop music that only two people would admit to liking, but secretly every single one of you loved it. We have stories to tell about how our Team Leaders or Health and Wellness Liaisons made us do team builders every week that we rolled our eyes at, but we knew they brought every single one of us closer together. We have stories to tell about a FEMA or NCCC staff member inspiring us to work harder, follow our dreams, and to not be afraid to reach out whenever we need help. We have stories to tell about two women, with no money, coming into the Disaster Recovery Center in Colorado following the floods, asking for food. And Adrianne from Otter 3 finding the food that was left and allowing these women to fill their bags as they wept with gratitude. We have so many stories.

All of these stories can make up a book; a giant, long, jumbled, confusing book that only NCCC members and alumni can fully understand and appreciate. But if we look at FEMA Corps and our experiences from the perspective of our entire lives, these stories are only a chapter; a chapter that we finish writing today. I have said this to my team several times already, but while I am more than ready and excited to begin a new chapter of my life, I know that I will be looking back at this one wishing I could live many moments of it over and over again.

So what did we do?

We graduated from a program that has prepared us for any job. “Your per diem is only going to be $60 a day.” Steak for breakfast, lobster for lunch, and both for dinner. “Do you work well in a team setting?” Let me tell you about a team setting

So what did we do?

We made networking connections unlike anyone else our age. Oh your boss from Tasty Freeze is your reference? Mine is the presidential-appointee, FEMA administrator Craig Fugate.

So what did we do?

We made friends who we know will remain friends for the rest of our lives. We explored places that others can only wish to explore. We helped people on their hardest and darkest days. We made enough memories to fill a lifetime.

So when you go home and you hear the inevitable question, “What did you do?” take a second to think, and instead of giving them a generic spiel about what FEMA Corps is, tell them one of your many, wonderful, important, and beautiful stories. 

If you are interested in learning more about AmeriCorps NCCC and FEMA Corps, or want to apply to serve, please visit


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