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