North to Alaska! Corps Helping with Flood Relief Efforts in Remote Village

Editor's Note: Over the summer, numerous Corps and partners have been assisting with flood relief efforts in the remote village of Galena, Alaska as part of a FEMA - AmeriCorps mission assignment. To date, among The Corps Network's membership, Washington Conservation Corps, Conservation Corps Minnesota and Iowa, and American YouthWorks have sent crews. In addition to the excellent story below that we are republishing courtesy of AmeriCorps and the National Service Blog, FEMA has an excellent resource page that includes items like a pair of striking before and after satellite images that show the rapid extent of flooding. There is also a Yukon AmeriCorps response Facebook page that includes photos and regular updates. As usual, we are proud of our members and partners for their excellent work to help out in a time of need, no matter how challenging the logistics or how far the distance!

By Paula Katrina Drago

On June 25, President Obama made a federal disaster declaration for parts of Alaska along the Yukon River due to ice jam-related flooding from May 17 to June 11. On cue, a team of AmeriCorps members soon arrived in the remote village of Galena to help people there begin to recover.

Flooding affected villages along a 1,200-mile stretch of the Yukon in the United States – a distance roughly the length of the Mississippi River from Minneapolis, MN, to Vicksburg, MS. The ice blockage sent water flowing into Galena and other villages along the river, flooding homes, schools, and other critical infrastructure.

Response efforts to Galena were unlike any other flood response as the town is only accessible by plane and barge (and only plane once the river freezes up in early fall). The logistics of moving people and resources in and out of the village poses some unique challenges, and any work that isn’t complete by the time winter arrives in late September won’t be resumed until May.

AmeriCorps members arrived in Galena on July 13, two weeks after FEMA made the official federal disaster declaration. Within an hour of landing, they were in the field beginning the critical work of repairing the community. Since their arrival, AmeriCorps members have:

  • Gathered more than 100 homeowner work-order requests for volunteer assistance and established a collaborative work order and dispatch process for the Galena area.
  • Completed more than 70 work orders.
  • Collected and distributed 500+ pounds of food, 40+ pounds of clothes, and 5,600+ pounds of other supplies.
  • Provided direct volunteer management support to over 30 volunteers.

AmeriCorps members are supporting shelter operations and helping residents muck and gut, remove debris, and repair their homes, but that’s only a snapshot of the national service response. For a more detailed picture of what AmeriCorps is doing in Galena, watch the video below and read a member’s account of her team’s experience. 

Going to the Dogs

AmeriCorps has also played a critical role in addressing the impact of the flood on animals there because Galena’s dogs are more than pets—they’re integral to survival.

Dogs help residents find their way home in poor weather conditions, and they alert owners to predators and other dangers. Many are part of dog sled teams that are an important form of transportation – especially when temperatures fall below the point where fuel freezes and render motorized vehicles useless – in a town that is also a stop for the famous Iditarod race. 

Compared to many of the disasters AmeriCorps members have responded to in the last two years, Galena, Alaska, is small in size. Yet whether a disaster impacts millions, thousands, or hundreds, each family receives the same response whenever their world gets turned upside down.

When the work orders arrive, our teams don’t refer to them by a number or even a last name. They see instead that “Allison’s sister” needs some trees removed or that “John’s father” needs his home mucked and gutted. By connecting on this intimate level, AmeriCorps is able to do an even-better job with what we do best: getting things done.

To view the original version of this story and see additional photos and the short video, please click here to journey to the National Service blog.

Boiler Plate: 
Over the summer, numerous Corps and partners have been assisting with flood relief efforts in the remote village of Galena, Alaska as part of a FEMA - AmeriCorps mission assignment.

"People can get through the unimaginable if they stick together" - a member of the Texas Conservation Corps reflects on disaster relief


A member of the Texas Conservation Corps reflects on her experience assisting with disaster relief in West, TX - the location of an April 2013 fertilizer plant explosion that injured over 200 people and killed 15. 

Taken from the Texas Conservation Corps blog
- by Heather Kouros, Corpsmember 

The term disaster can refer to an event, or series of events, natural or human induced that causes a significant amount of damage; whether it be in loss of lives or in the physical shifting of the environment. “Disaster” in and of itself doesn’t refer to a specific event, but rather to its scale, its effect. Since returning from my 2 weeks in West, working disaster relief and thinking about disaster, the main idea that keeps coming back to me is the severing that occurs when disaster strikes. The disruption of time and space, of a place and its functions. The expulsion of a people from the routine of their daily lives, into something unimaginable, with no set guidelines or instruction manual. This is certainly the case for the town of West, Texas, a small community of about 3,000, that became a household name when a fertilizer plant exploded on April 17th,2013.

As TxCC’s Emergency Response Team working in West, our goal was to help facilitate the transition into this new reality. We dealt with critical aspects of disaster recovery that can be neglected when tragedy hits: donations and volunteer management. After deploying to West, our crew was hit with the insanity of West Fest Fairgrounds donation site, the major drop off and distribution center for donations that oversaw over 120 tons of donations. Displaced residents, unclear of the fates of their homes and families members, picked through piles of donations. Over 5,000 volunteers came to help during our time here. We recorded their volunteer hours and other data  so that their presence will help reduce the local cost of the disaster and then we coordinated precise locations and tasks so that their work could be best utilized.

Upon learning the Incident Command operational systems from the  immediate responders, Team Rubicon, our crews were thrown into the field. The entire location was our responsibility; feeding, volunteer reception and coordination and handling the tons of donations that were received daily. We developed a volunteer reception center that could handle the flow of people coming to lend a hand, and directed these people to crew members working in the warehouse itself for task delegation. We also had a team of people in the office, updating reports and data. We received contact information for the hundreds of people offering services, developed a media management program, made site maps of affected areas, and put up a facebook page as an informational resource.

As operations expanded over the course of the next few days, our responsibilities shifted from West Fest to the other locations that were providing relief and resources. ERT members were stationed at the Joint Assistance Facility (JAC), where they assisted over 80 homeowners with intake forms so that they could receive free assistance from volunteer organizations. Team members coordinated volunteers with locations needing assistance all over the city, and arranged for critical resources to be brought into the areas most devastated by the explosion. We managed reentry registration, handing out damage assessments to affected homeowners and helping guide them to the resources they needed. We developed a database for volunteer hours and homeowner intake forms that was maintained daily, and served as an informational platform to the public. We dedicated our time to creating a structure that could be transitioned to city appointed leaders, who would lead the long term recovery program.

The deployment in West was our crew’s first experience leading during a disaster, and we all struggled and overcame the challenges it presented together. We worked fourteen hour days, getting lost in our work and all that needed to be done, and slept in the office that served as our home base. We cried with each other from the stress, bad food and exhaustion, but also for the tragedy and grief of our temporary home and all the people in it we had quickly come to love. We helped people find their dogs, we listened to their stories, we fed them and ate (too much) and we bonded about Jesus. We even met Batman, the weirdest and most righteous volunteer ever. We learned about resilience and optimism, and that people can get through the unimaginable if they stick together.

American YouthWorks' Parc Smith Profiled by Austin News Site

American YouthWorks’ Parc Smith builds on a family legacy of fairness

By Michael Barnes
American-Statesman Staff


In rural Erath County, white townsmen in hoods once threatened Parc Smith’s grandfather.


“They demanded: ‘Why are you employing a black man when there’s white men out of work,’” Smith, 41, recounts. “He called them out by name: ‘Billy, Johnny, Bob, I’m going to count to three and start shooting.’ At two, he started shooting. They left and never messed with him again.”

Smith, CEO of a rejuvenated American YouthWorks, which blends education, service and jobs training, learned about social decency from an early age. His father, who joined civil rights protests at the University of Texas during the 1960s, taught at historically black colleges. His mother came from a long line of Texas workers who helped their neighbors in any way that they could.

“I was always taught to be good to all people,” he says. “Race and color, economic status don’t matter.”

Once a prospective forest ranger who served on conservation crews, Smith’s personal search for a way to help others took him outdoors. It’s easy to imagine the relaxed and wholesome-looking Smith, 41, as a happy-go-lucky kid. He camped with the YMCA, which employed his mother in Waco, before heading to the Dublin and Stephenville area.

“My parents were very supportive,” he says. “And pretty hands-off. I was free to do what I wanted.”

Playing football in a small Texas town also gave him something of a free pass from serious trouble. Popular, he was asked by his classmates to speak out against the school district’s dress code. Generally a respectful student, he wore a T-shirt to school that read: “Only a fascist would tell a kid how to wear his hair.”

Continue Reading at Statesman.com 

American YouthWorks rebrands E-Corps as Texas Conservation Corps and announces new disaster response program



Swearing-in Ceremony at the Texas State Capitol for new members of the Texas Conservation Corps (formerly Environmental Corps, or E-Corps)

 

This week the Texas Conservation Corps (TxCC), a service program of American YouthWorks, announced that it will operate emergency response teams. Though based out of Texas, the teams will be prepared to provide relief when disaster strikes in other states. One crew is already in New Jersey helping with Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts. When the crews are not responding to emergencies, they will work on conservation and disaster mitigation projects throughout the state of Texas.

This new program was made possible through an AmeriCorps grant provided by the One Star Foundation.  The funds will be used to train Corpsmembers in hazardous debris removal, home repair, shelter management, and volunteer management.

The announcement about the disaster response teams was made at a swearing-in ceremony for new Corpsmembers on the South Steps of the Texas Capitol on March 22, 2013. These Corpsmembers will be some of the first young people to serve in the Texas Conservation Corps under its new name. The program operated as E-Corps (Environmental Corps) for the past 17 years. Though the program has a new name, it will continue to provide youth the opportunity to solve real community issues through impactful conservation and disaster relief projects in Texas and adjacent states. American YouthWorks is hosting an event later this month to celebrate the rebranding.

Public Lands Service Coalition Holds a National Summit on 21st Century Conservation Service Corps

On November 15th, The Public Lands Service Coalition (PLSC) invited a wide range of public and private sector leaders to a National Summit on the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) in Washington, DC. Participants learned more about the 21CSC Federal Advisory Committee’s recommendations and also provided their input on implementation of the 21CSC.

PLSC members – Destry Jarvis, Harry Bruell, Mary Ellen Ardouny, Parc Smith and Scott Weaver – conducted a presentation on the background and capacity of Corps as well as key recommendations of the Federal Advisory Committee and an explanation of current "industry" efforts to implement a national accreditation process.

There were several additional speakers including Mary McCabe, a graduate of the Texas Conservation Corps (American YouthWorks), spoke about her experience serving in a Corps and how it is has affected her life.

Tim Harvey, Chief of the National Park Service (NPS) Park Facility Management Division, provided a presentation of the NPS’s efforts to increase the use of Corps to complete projects for the NPS.

Michael Gale, Director of the Department of The Interior (DOI) Office of Youth, Partnerships & Service, spoke about the DOI’s efforts to respond to the Committee’s report, manage the signing of an inter-fepartmental MOU to establish the 21CSC and the National Council, and coordinate an official launch of the 21CSC.

Merlene Mazyck, US Forest Service (USFS) Program Manager of Volunteers and Service, spoke about USFS’s efforts to support the 21CSC by expanding its partnerships with youth programs, supporting HistoriCorps projects and adding a youth employment focus to the USFS Youth Alliance.

The PLSC will continue to support the launch and implementation of the 21CSC as a bold national effort to put thousands of America’s young people and veterans to work protecting, restoring, and enhancing America’s great outdoors!

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