What Did You Do?: Graduation Speech From The FEMA Corps Class 20 at the Atlantic Region

Article appears on AmeriCorps NCCC Blog. Published May 28, 2014. 
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. 
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 www.nationalservice.gov/nccc.

American YouthWorks Celebrates The Graduating Class of 2014

Article appears in American YouthWorks Newsletter.

I'm so excited about our amazing, 2014 graduating class and I wanted to share our milestone with you.   

Many students in our Service Learning Academy say that they would have dropped out without the school.        

These students came from difficult, non-traditional backgrounds and overcame significant challenges to walk across the stage.   

101 graduates! 

25% of students in the class are parents.

Over 90% of these students were at-risk of dropping out of high school (or had already dropped out).   

Only 5% were on track to graduate when they enrolled with us.   

They've beaten the statistics.  Not only have they finished high school, but they're graduating ready to continue their success in college or careers.    

By participating in our jobs training programs, these graduates have learned skills that prepare them to get meaningful, stable jobs in a broad array of fields.  Additionally, many have been placed into paid internships where they are gaining work experience.  They earned over $30,000 in scholarships to further their education in college or trade school.  And each graduate has completed service projects that benefit our community!   

I hope you'll take just two more minutes to read the story of Gabe below.  At age 20, he almost dropped out.  Instead, he graduated with the 2014 class, has found a meaningful career path, and is already employed!

It's an honor to be a part of such an important mission to build brighter futures and better communities through job skills training, education, and service opportunities.


With kind regards,

Parc Smith

CEO, American YouthWorks 


Graduate Highlight
Gabe's inspiring story


Gabe was attending Cherokee Christian Academy where he wasn't getting enough help and felt like he was going nowhere.  Upon turning 20, when most students would have already earned their diploma, he enrolled at American YouthWorks.   


Gabe participated in both our Service Learning Academy Charter High School and YouthBuild programs, meaning that while earning his diploma, he was learning job skills in green construction and home repair.      


In addition to learning construction skills, he participated in our Automotive Technology program, which is run through a partnership with Austin Community College (ACC).  He didn't realize that automotive repair was something he would be so interested in until he was given the opportunity to try it.  Gabe ended up loving it and doing so well that his ACC instructor recommended him to the Toyota dealership.  I'm happy to report that Gabe is now gainfully employed in their service department.   


If it hadn't been for American YouthWorks, Gabe feels like he may never have finished his diploma and he definitely wouldn't have found such a great opportunity to pursue a job he loves - right out of high school.  Gabe intends to keep working at Toyota while he pursues an Associate's Degree in Automotive Technology.



I hope this farewell is more of a “see you later” - An Inspirational Corpsmember Speech from the Green City Force Graduation

Shella Hair, GCF Graduate and Corps Member speaker (Photo credit Anthony Clark)

A speech delivered by Corpsmember Shella Hair at the Green City Force Winter 2013 graduation ceremony

I would like to start by saying thank you to the Team Leaders, administration and staff of Green City Force. I would like to give special thanks to Lisbeth Shepherd for all she has done with GCF to make each cohort better.

Because of your support and encouragement, we are all here today celebrating this special day together. Also, I cannot forget this awesome group of Corps Members sitting in front of me. It has been a great pleasure to represent this Cohort; I couldn’t ask for a better group of people with whom to start a promising future!

Before this program I was living in a world guided by fear and failure; a world suppressing the uniqueness that lies inside of each of us; a world that sets us up for failure by giving us an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, work that does not need to be done, and enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement. After High School they kick us out and say the future is ours with no manual instructions, not even a What’s Next After High School for Dummies book. Not every student is prepared for college and not every student is walking into a job. Most of us are just happy to graduate from High School.  They say the choice is ours, yet the truth is we have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, which is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.

However failure became my best friend and fear was right around every corner I turned. I say failure became my best friend because it gave me an inner security that I had never attained from passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could not have learned any other way. I discovered that I had a strong will and more discipline than I had suspected. The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger after setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself or the strength of your relationships until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for if it is painfully won, it is worth more than any qualification I ever earned. So during those times failure came to my door, I embraced it with both arms opened wide.

We are all very special; every human on this planet. YES, each and every one of you.  So aren’t we all deserving of something better? Using our minds for innovation rather than memorization, for creativity rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation? On February 4, 2013 I became a Corps Member of Green City Force and my entire life and outlook on life changed. I was given hope. I am no longer ashamed to say I am from NYCHA. In addition, after being a member of the Urban Farm Corps I found myself and discovered what I want to do with my life, my calling, and my passion:  Urban Agriculture. There’s something about taking vacant lots and fields and turning them into gardens and farms that provide fresh produce to the residents of that community. I love educating people of all ages on the importance of healthy eating, working with people to make a difference in their lives, and beautifying NYC with flowers, herbs, and vegetables! I was so inspired, I actually started a garden in my own development in the South Bronx.

The saddest part is that the majority of young adults do not have the opportunity to reflect as I did, experience the things I’ve done, or meet the people I’ve met. They weren’t given a second chance as I was. I will never be able to turn back these 23 years. I cannot run away to another country and start over. That part of my life is over, and going forward I want to make sure that no other young adult from public housing will have his or her potential suppressed by powers meant to exploit and control. Every young adult that lives in NYCHA from age 18 to 24 should be given the opportunity to be a part of Green City Force. We are human beings. We are thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we want to be – but only if we support one another rather than hold one another down. A tree can grow, but only if its roots are given a healthy foundation.

So, here I stand. I am not standing here because I am the best Corps Member, or because I am better than any of you. Truth is I was molded by my environment, by all of my peers who are sitting here watching me. I couldn’t have accomplished this without all of you. It was all of you who truly made me the person I am today. It was all of you who were my competition, but at the base my backbone. In that way, we are all winners and we will all be successful.

Shella Hair, GCF Graduate Speaker (Photo credit Anthony Clark)

Looking around, we do not see the same people we saw on the first day of Green City Force. Some have left and others have given up, but we did not! We used GCF to move forward.  Before GCF, many of us were against all odds. Growing up in NYCHA made me feel worthless and useless; I became a product of my drug-infested, crime-ridden broken-down environment. I felt trapped. We all had challenges to face, but look at us now. We became AmeriCorps Service Members of Green City Force.  When the world labeled us and tried to break us down, we challenged it with our longevity to finish the program, beat them with our perseverance, and became a Force that is unstoppable.

I am now supposed to say farewell to Green City Force, those who maintain it, and those who stand with me and behind me. I hope this farewell is more of a “see you later,” when we are all working together to rear a pedagogic movement. In the long run I think it would be safe to say, leave behind what is not helpful and instead bring forward with you the lessons that will be the working parts of your greatest invention ever: Your life! Your future! Congratulations to us, Winter Cohort of 2013!