An AmeriCorps member reflects on Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts

Taken from Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa

 

A few years ago, Tara Sloane couldn’t imagine picking up a chainsaw. Yet this fall she spent seven weeks mucking and gutting houses and managing volunteers as a member of the Conservation Corps’ Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. It was one of the most extraordinary experiences of her life.

A 2012 Three Rivers field crew member, Tara stepped into leadership roles she never imagined with behind-the-scenes deployment preparations, financial management and leading cleanup crews ― even though she felt like a novice during her year in the Corps.

“Coming out here, I didn’t even know how a house was constructed or even really where the wires were,” Tara said. “But after a week out here, I was leading crews, making sure all the crewmembers were safe, managing the emotions of the devastated homeowners and keeping their trust to know that I would not ruin their home.”

Tara originally heard about the Corps from a couch surfer friend. “It sounded like an incredible program but definitely not one for me… Chainsaws really weren’t something I could see myself getting into,” Tara said.

 After traveling in Eastern Europe where she worked on organic farms, Tara discovered she liked working outside, getting her hands dirty and being exhausted at the end of a work day. So she applied for a Conservation Corps field crew position.

Early in her Corps term, Tara didn’t have much confidence or see herself as a leader. “I didn’t even know the difference between an elm and an oak,” she said. When she was given the opportunity to join the Hurricane Sandy relief response, Tara didn’t know what to expect. Corps members were told they would working mainly in shelters, but were soon running Team Rubicon’s cleanup operation and training and managing other AmeriCorps volunteers in the Rockaway neighborhood. Men and veterans who had experience working on houses came back again and again to volunteer on her crew. 

The work touched Tara’s life. Her crew worked on the family homes of Vilmarie and Jose, which had sustained incredible damages. While corps members gutted the houses, Tara helped Vilmarie wash, hang and dry an entire garbage bag of family photos. Tara got to know the family through the pictures and stories Vilmarie told her in Spanish. “I felt so connected to them because I was literally hanging photos of her entire life, from holidays to weddings to vacations,” Tara said.

When the gutting work was done and all the pictures were saved, Jose and Vilmarie cried, hugged and said they always had a home there in the Rockaways.

During her second deployment, Tara was reunited with Jose and Vilmarie while canvassing for FEMA. They welcomed her with open arms, showed her their nearly completed house and reminded her she was always welcome in their home.

Tara knows her success in the relief effort came from the basic skills she learned during her time in Conservation Corps. As a crew member she was familiar with working long hours, knowing how to be safe with tools and working with different types of people.

“I loved AmeriCorps… I saw so much growth in myself,” Tara said. “This opportunity gave me a lot of resume builders and I am excited to see how this will translate into my other experiences.”