Gus and Noel from AmeriCorps NCCC team Maple 8 share their service story of serving an Iowa community after a disaster with NECHAMA.
AmeriCorps NCCC team Maple 8 mucked and gutted homes with NECHAMA: Jewish Response to Disaster in Rock Rapids, Iowa. We assisted members of the community with recovering from the devastating flood that occurred in June 2014. The flood was responsible for damaging over 60 homes in the community, along with several local businesses. The high waters also halted social gatherings that occur annually in the neighborhood to celebrate the community’s heritage.
|Maple 8 members serving with NECHAMA in Rock Rapids, IA|
We were very nervous going into this project. Being the first disaster relief project for all of us, we did not know what to expect, nor did we anticipate how difficult and emotionally demanding a project such as this would be on how it would impact our lives. None the less, we went into this project knowing that we had to be ready for everything and anything, and that’s just what we did.
Upon arrival, the team did not see the damage to the homes. The exterior of any location can be drastically different to the interior. It was not until we went inside the homes and downstairs into the basements that we realized how severely the houses had been affected. One of the homes that we worked on was owned by a very nice man, Mr. Berg. Mr. Berg is an Air Force veteran and has lived in Rock Rapids with his family for many years. His home had been completely flooded, engulfing the entire basement with water, and reaching up to two feet on the first floor. We worked alongside NECHAMA and Team Rubicon to clear out the basement and knock down as much of the wall as possible.
While doing this work we learned that Mr. Berg had kept his Air Force uniform in the basement, and unfortunately the suits became soaked with dirty water and mud. As a team, we all agree that our most memorable moment would have to be presenting Mr. Berg with a clean uniform and polished military pins after Team Rubicon took the uniform to the cleaners and restored as much of it as possible. Seeing Mr. Berg smile and how grateful he was for our work and assistance to his home and his personal belongings was definitely a highlight for us all.
While serving on this project, we can’t say that we had significant challenges. You may think that after working so hard to muck and gut houses, we would be complaining about the hard and demanding work. On the contrary, the service became that much more significant through knowing that we were helping people and experiencing the entire community’s appreciation, which they showed by thanking us as we walked down the street or providing us with something to eat. Perhaps the only challenge we had was leaving the project, as we would have liked to help many more people. However, we completed all the assignments that we set out to accomplish and knowing that gave us a great amount to be proud of.
We also held weekly meetings and reflections to help us understand the impact that our presence had on the community. The weekly meetings also provided us with the ability to speak freely about how we felt, emotionally and physically.
We would like to say, that this experience left each and every one of us with a profound understanding of the way disaster relief is conducted. This is a bitter sweet story, as losing a home and many personal belongings can leave anyone with a bitter feeling. However, knowing that there are people out there who are willing to donate their time and effort to help others in need is definitely something that could provide anyone with some peace of mind. We will definitely take this experience with us for the rest of our lives and remember that it was not people like Mr. Berg who were lucky to have us. Instead, we were lucky to have had the opportunity to meet such humble individuals and provide our services to them.
Interested in learning more about AmeriCorps NCCC or applying to serve? Visit www.americorps.gov/nccc! The application deadline is October 1st, 2014.