Hurricane Maria Recovery: A Washington Conservation Corps Story from the U.S. Virgin Islands


Washington Conservation Corps members with All Hands, a disaster response organization.
 

In early November, 12 Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) AmeriCorps members finished a 30-day disaster response deployment to the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Corpsmembers assisted communities affected by Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm that made landfall in September. An additional 18 WCC AmeriCorps members were deployed recently and will be on the ground through mid-December. Korey Nuehs shares a personal account from serving on the first wave of responders to communities on St. Thomas.
 


By Korey Nuehs, WCC AmeriCorps member
 

Another day of rain. I see the homeowner grab an old leather bag from the bed and clutch it in her arms. 

"This needs to be saved," she says.

"It's wet and moldy," her daughter responds.

"It was your father's."

The mother grabs the bag and walks outside without saying another word. Both she and her daughter are wearing white M95 masks to protect against the mold. It's still raining, there is a hole in the roof, and I'm tearing down the daughter's bedroom. 

I tear down her bed and move it outside to be thrown into a dumpster. I come back to tear down the shelves that used to hold the daughter's belongings. They are empty now. I see a quote stuck to the middle shelf. I tear it off and set it aside. I grab the shelves and move them outside to the trash heap beginning to form. 

Only it's not trash. It is years of memories and attachments that can't be saved. I walk back into the house. My boots and socks are wet from walking through the foot of standing water inside the house. As I walk back into the daughter's bedroom, I see her hunched over, reading the quote I pulled from the shelf. I step outside to give her a moment alone. The quote reads:

"The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you."

I served four years in the U.S. Army. I'm used to deploying to foreign countries, used to living in stressful conditions, used to being uncomfortable and dealing with the forces of Mother Nature. But in the Army, there are always barriers between you and the people. Language, culture, animosity, time, and space all help to distance the soldier from the people in their homeland. I wasn't used to stepping into someone's wound, watching it bleed, watching it attempt to heal. 

I wasn't used to seeing a mother struggle to make the choice between which belongings to keep and which to throw away, or watch her try to keep a calm face while a disaster has destroyed almost everything she's owned. I saw both her pain and her resilience. She baked us cookies and blessed us by name.

More importantly, I listened to her story. I listened to her tell us how she and her husband moved out to the island and bought a house. I listened to her tell us that her husband died when the kids were young and how she made the decision to stay on the island. And then a storm hits. Old wounds are cracked open, but somehow, through it all is not an ending, but a beginning.

"The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you."

I joined AmeriCorps because I needed a job. I know where I am going and where I have been. I want to go to law school. I want to have a family. I want to make a difference. And yet, life happens. It moves without us and shapes us, tells us where we will go, and sometimes, sometimes, we just have to move forward. 

The woman we helped probably had plans like mine. She might have even sat down one morning this summer on the porch overlooking the valley below, letting her imagination run, perhaps coming to similar conclusions about where she was going. And yet, life happens. Two category five hurricanes hit, and all she can do is move forward.

Our AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team is responding to a disaster that will show lasting impacts years from now. We are “mucking and gutting” people’s homes, deconstructing them to remove material damaged by water and mold so people can eventually rebuild.

Yet, a creation of sorts has already begun. Out of the disaster, a web of millions of lives are now intertwined because of these two hurricanes. Now I know this woman and her daughter. I know their story, and, because of that, I share in it, and another story forms. One where individuals no longer move forward alone, but as a community supporting each other. An island and a people form a story of renewal amidst a landscape of devastation. 


A WCC AmeriCorps member on the most recent deployment treats mold.

Hurricane Harvey Recovery: Firsthand Account of Relief Efforts in TX from Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa AmeriCorps Member Caleb Bell


AmeriCorps members gut homes damaged in Hurricane Harvey.
 

In response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, several member organizations of The Corps Network have sent crews to Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Cooridnation of most of these deployments has been through the AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team (A-DRT) program.

Corpsmembers from across the country have assisted with a range of activities, including clearing debris, coordinating volunteers and donations, conducting damage assessments, and helping muck, gut and tarp homes. Below, read the firsthand account of Caleb Bell, an AmeriCorps member from Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa who deployed to Texas.

 


By Caleb Bell

My name is Caleb Bell. I was born in Des Moines, IA, raised in Colorado, and I went to Iowa State University for college.

My AmeriCorps term this year has been great. I joined Conservation Corps Minnesota and Iowa (CCMI) for the professional experience of leading a crew and learning new land management skills. I wanted to get more field and leadership experience and I have received both during my AmeriCorps term.

One big reason I joined AmeriCorps is because I didn’t know what to expect. It was something new and unpredictable. My home base is in Western Iowa. All I knew going into my term was that I would be doing land management: using chainsaws, brush sawing, treating invasive species, and hopefully having the chance to work on prescribed burns. I ended up doing a lot of burning. My crew completed over 6,000 acres of prescribed burns in about three months. Before being deployed on disaster, my plant identification skills increased and my professional communication and leadership skills grew.

 


 

Heading to Texas

When I found out I would be deployed for disaster response, I was excited. I knew there would be a lot more to learn; that’s a huge reason I joined AmeriCorps.

Going into the disaster response deployment, all I knew was that I was leaving for Texas. I knew that I would be in Austin for training, but had no idea what would come after that. I was told either Corpus Christi or Houston were the most likely locations, but I wasn’t told what I would be doing. I left my shop in Honey Creek, IA at 7:00 am on September 5 for Ames, IA; then I drove from Ames to St. Louis, MO that same night. I arrived in Austin just before midnight on September 6.

When I got to Austin, I thought my deployment would only be for 30 days. Three weeks into my deployment I was told I could stay until November 13. This would make 72 days of deployment. When I arrived, six of the seven people from my crew were deployed to Texas. In total, there were 52 Corpsmembers from CCMI.

 


Houston

We were originally sent to Houston. We lived in an old Wal-Mart that had been turned into a FEMA responder camp. The space had a capacity of 1,400 cots and a small dining area. We had shower trailers and were doing laundry at the laundromat.

Houston was definitely different than I expected. It was a shock at first to see how much devastation the flooding caused. In the neighborhood where we served, there were people who had experienced four or five feet of water in their homes. The people we helped hadn’t started mucking and gutting at all; the water had just receded a few days prior to our arrival.

I was in one house that really needed help. The homeowner had belongings in every room, floor to ceiling. At first it was extremely difficult to work on her home. I had a really hard time believing what I was seeing, and she had a hard time letting things go. The more I worked on the home and talked to the owner, the easier it became to help her. She knew that things needed to go, and began to let us throw things away, even though it was hard for her.

The most rewarding part of helping this survivor was when she thanked my team for helping her. She told me she hadn’t seen her walls in 25 years. It was so moving for me when we finished the house. Just before I drove away, the trash collectors started picking up the 200+ cubic yards of debris we had moved. It really showed how 10 strong backs and three long days can really change someone’s life. In the case of this survivor, she would never have been able to remove everything herself. Both physically because of her health condition and mentally because it was so hard to let things go.

Around the time this house was being started, our living situation changed. We moved from the responder camp at Wal-Mart to Hilton Americas in downtown Houston. The Hilton had been rented out by another agency and they didn’t want the rooms to go to waste, so, for five days, all 52 of us had our own room in a Hilton. I would say the Hilton offered a huge attitude boost. I was exhausted. Mentally, it was hard to see everyone’s lives affected so much by the storm. Physically, I was tired from working 14-15 hour days with a 110+ heat index. I needed the break, and the rooftop pool didn’t hurt.

 


Brazoria County

Right before our day off, we were told that we would be leaving Houston and going south to Brazoria County. The news that we were leaving Houston was really hard for me. After canvassing and working in the neighborhood, I knew there was a huge need for us in Houston; it was really hard to wrap my head around the fact that we had to tell homeowners that we wouldn’t be able to stay in Houston. I know that Brazoria County fit with AmeriCorps’ mission, but I still had a hard time. I was happy being deployed because I had a really good chance to help people who truly needed our assistance, and in Houston we found just as much need as I found in Brazoria County.

In Brazoria County, it was definitely easier to find a place to stay, laundry facilities, food, and there was a very supportive community, but it was much harder to find people who needed help. The first day in Brazoria County, my team drove around for four hours canvassing and didn’t find any homeowners who needed our help. Part of this was because we were later in the recovery process in this county, and part was because it is a lot less densely populated than Houston.

We have been able to find survivors who needed assistance, it just took more looking to find the ones who were hardest hit. There are some homes in Brazoria County that had 10 - 11 feet of water in them. A lot of homes here had water sitting in them for 10 days before the flooding receded. These homes were in really rough shape; the ones we found in the last week that hadn’t been touched yet were so full of mold that even ceiling panels needed to come out. Most houses being mucked and gutted now need full floor to ceiling mucking.

 




Change of Responsibilities

With the move from Houston to Brazoria, I transitioned from strike team lead to the assessment team. As a member of the assessment team I was often one of the first AmeriCorps faces these survivors met. This was definitely a change of pace. In the city, there was an attitude that everyone was all promises; we definitely weren’t the first group that had showed up offering help. In the county, we were often the first group that had stopped to even ask if people needed assistance.

After a week or so, I switched from assessments to AmeriCorps Liaison. As Liaison I really helped to build relationships within the community. These relationships have led to continued community support and a lot of help from the community in feeding and housing the AmeriCorps members here, and helping find high-priority homes for us to clean.

The relationship with United Way has been extremely helpful. The Long Term Recovery Executive Committee voted to donate money towards our food needs, helped us relocate a survivor whose home hadn’t been worked on at all, and continues to help us with our needs. We also help them by doing assessments and muck-and-guts for some of their cases. This kind of teamwork is making it so this community has a really good chance at recovery. As Liaison I have also really learned to talk to people. Whether it is asking for help, asking someone if they need help, or just starting small talk, I have definitely grown as a communicator because of my role with A-DRT (AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team).

One role I’m really proud of is helping to create an AmeriCorps presence in Little Cambodia. Some of the connections I made at the Long Term Recovery meetings asked me one day if I could help bring some pallets of food to the refugee village. The process of moving the food and helping the survivors unload the food was amazing. It really felt like I was doing something meaningful. Since the first food delivery, I have helped with a water delivery and a second food delivery. Each time I went to the village, more of the residents recognized me, and I just felt like I was doing the right thing. Between my donation visits and the assessment team spending time there, we were beginning to gain the trust of the village. I believe A-DRT has a few houses scheduled for roof tarps in Little Cambodia soon. I’m definitely glad that I was able to be part of such a unique opportunity.

 


A Learning Experience

In the community, I have met people from all walks of life. There have been people who always see the positive, even though their life was flipped upside down, and there are also those who only see the negative, even when their lives haven’t changed a lot. It is really interesting to see the effect that just listening to people’s stories has on their outlook. I have definitely found that some people who are having a hard time with everything that has happened tend to do a lot better after you just listen to their story. This is definitely something I will try and take with me after deployment.

My interactions with survivors have been really good for the most part. Most people are really happy to receive help, and I had only a couple of negative encounters. I think the people who I had rough encounters with were just at a really tough point; after we helped them, they really opened up and were very happy with the work we were able to do.

I think I have learned a lot about people during this deployment. I’ve learned that a lot of people who seem strong and confident have a hard time during times of crisis because they aren’t used to things not going well. I’ve also learned that a lot of quiet, more reserved people really shine during situations like this. However, I’ve also learned that neither of these things are true for everyone. Each person deals with stress differently.

I’ve become a lot more comfortable talking with people I don’t know. I can talk to someone I meet on the street about the work that A-DRT is doing here, or just about how their day is going. Before deployment I wasn’t much for small talk. I tended to avoid social events and had a really hard time talking to strangers. Now I can talk to anyone about almost anything.

I think that everyone should take the opportunity to help with disaster response if they have the chance. This deployment has definitely been life-changing for me. I wish that I had been able to stay longer. It’s hard for me to know that there is no more work to do here, but I have to go home and have three weeks off. I think there is a lot I would change about this deployment, but I am really happy with the difference I feel that I’ve made here.

Hurricane Matthew Response is first Project for Palmetto Conservation Corps Inaugural Crew

Launched this past August as an arm of the South Carolina-based Palmetto Conservation Foundation, Palmetto Conservation Corps is one of the newest members of The Corps Network. Right out of orientation, the Corps' inaugural crew headed out to assist the Hurricane Matthew response. Check out this local news report as well as photos and a press release from the Corps. Well done to the crew and thank you for your service! 


 


October 18, 2016
For Immediate Release

Contact:  Rachel Price
Palmetto Conservation Foundation
rprice@palmettoconservation.org
803-771-0870

 

Palmetto Conservation Corps Deploys For Disaster Relief in Horry and Marion Counties

For the next three weeks, the Palmetto Conservation Corps will work out of Conway, SC, to provide disaster relief in Horry and Marion counties following Hurricane Matthew and subsequent flooding.

Both counties experienced wind damage and flooding from the 12 to 18 inches of rain that fell during the hurricane. Severe flooding continued as the PeeDee, Little PeeDee, Lumber, and Waccamaw rivers crested about a week after the storm at heights not seen since the 1920s. Hundreds of homes, farms, public buildings, roads and bridges were damaged in the storm.

The Corps will work for up to three weeks in the two hard-hit counties to assist with immediate needs for disaster relief at no charge to the communities. The work will focus on debris removal and general clean up, and may also include house muck outs, house gutting, mold remediation, potable water distribution, recovery resource guide distribution, call assistance on crisis clean-up hotlines, and assessing damage at housing sites.

Palmetto Conservation Foundation (PCF) launched the Corps in August as the only trail-based AmeriCorps service program for young adults in South Carolina. Most Corps training and service focuses on construction and maintenance of the Palmetto Trail, South Carolina’s premier hiking–bicycling trail that runs across the state from Awendaw in Charleston County to Walhalla in Oconee County.

In addition to trail work, a portion of Corps service is dedicated to disaster preparedness and response. Corps training for this disaster relief deployment has been in partnership with the St. Bernard Project, the South Carolina Commission on Community Service, South Carolina Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (SCVOAD), Waccamaw Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (Waccamaw VOAD), United Way of South Carolina, North Conway Baptist Church, and First Baptist Church of Conway.

Two members from Columbia's St. Bernard Project team will join the Corps during this deployment. First Baptist Church will provide housing, and Waccamaw VOAD will feed the crew lunch and dinner on workdays.

 





YCC Responds to Tornado


 

On the night of Sunday, August 2nd, an EF1 tornado with wind speeds up to 100 miles per hour touched down in Lake County, IL. The storm created a path of destruction over seven miles long, prompting Youth Conservation Corps (YCC), based in Waukegan, IL, to adjust their programming schedule to offer disaster response assistance.

YCC YouthBuild members have spent the better part of this week clearing debris. Their first stop was the home of an elderly woman whose house and driveway were buried in downed trees. The crew was able to clean the property and free her car. They next offered assistance at the home of a person with disabilities. So far, the crew has touched nine homes.

“It just so happens that this is my community and these are my neighbors,” said Ben Richards, YCC Program Director. “It brought a lot together for me. I was uplifted personally by what YCC AmeriCorps can and did do.”

Texas Conservation Corps Sends AmeriCorps Crew to Assist with Tornado Relief

 

The AmeriCorps crew pauses for a photo prior to deployment.

From the Texas Conservation Corps

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Volunteers will help the community in response to the recent EF-3 tornado

Austin, TX, May 13, 2015 – Tomorrow at 8AM, volunteers from the Texas Conservation Corps (TxCC) at American YouthWorks (AYW) will deploy to the community of Van, Texas in response to the recent tornado. 

The EF-3 tornado hit on Sunday, May 10th and reportedly impacted an area 700 yards wide along a nine-mile swath. More than 100 buildings and 30% of the city were damaged with over 40 people injured and two deaths. In response to the recent, severe storms, Governor Abbott has declared a disaster for Bosque, Clay, Denton, Eastland, Gaines, Montague, and Van Zandt counties.

TxCC is a program of AYW which has AmeriCorps volunteers on call to respond to disasters in the state of Texas and across the United States. This service is made possible through a grant from Texas' One Star Foundation. Members will deploy May 14th and will arrive in Van, Texas that same day. The team will set up a volunteer reception center which will register volunteers and assign them to help to locals affected by the disaster.  Also, the TxCC members will support the multi-agency resource center which provides help to the agencies that have come together to serve the members of the Van community. TxCC AmeriCorps members will also serve in a direct capacity, helping to remove debris, managing donations, and otherwise assisting residents.

With TxCC's help, the volunteer reception center is scheduled to open this weekend. Those who are interested in volunteering or donating to the affected community should visit VolunteerTX.org to learn more and register.

About American YouthWorks and Texas Conservation Corps

AYW provides young people with opportunities to build careers, strengthen communities, and improve the environment through education, on-the-job training, and service to others. TxCC is an AmeriCorps service program at AYW, which, for nearly 20 years, has focused on developing leaders in conservation and emergency management and provided critical support to improve parks and preserves.

Each year the program engages over 100 diverse youth and young adults  in critical, hands-on conservation and disaster service projects, giving participants the skills and opportunities to solve real life community and environmental problems. From right here in Austin to the Alaskan bush, TxCC has served thousands of individuals in disasters and helped numerous communities recover. The program has responded to disasters such as the Central Texas Wildfires, the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, the floods in east Austin, and Hurricane Sandy.

Boiler Plate: 
Volunteers from the Texas Conservation Corps (TxCC) at American YouthWorks (AYW) are deploying to the community of Van, Texas in response to the recent tornado. The EF-3 tornado hit on Sunday, May 10th and reportedly impacted an area 700 yards wide along a nine-mile swath. More than 100 buildings and 30% of the city were damaged with over 40 people injured and two deaths. In response to the recent, severe storms, Governor Abbott has declared a disaster for Bosque, Clay, Denton, Eastland, Gaines, Montague, and Van Zandt counties.

Montana Conservation Corps Responds to Deadly Avalanche


Photo from NBC Montana


Parts taken from NBC Montana and KPAX News

Click here to watch a newscast about the cleanup

The Montana Conservation Corps, along with neighbors and friends, are continuing digging in the snow and working hard to find an array of meaningful items at the site of last week's deadly Missoula avalanche.

Michel Jo Colville, a woman who was pulled alive from the Feb. 28 snow slide in the Lower Rattlesnake area at the base of Mount Jumbo, died from her injuries several days later.

Now crews are searching for specific items and hoping to find them somewhere in the deep snow that's still at the foothills of Mount Jumbo.

"We found a couple of one of the victim's journals, we found several of those, we found a lot of seashells which they're saving. They asked to keep an eye out for ceramics, colored glass, and seashells. The kids want to make an urn for the victim and so they want some stuff to do that with," Lindsay Wancour said.

“Part of our program is service to our community, and this is a perfect opportunity for us to give a little back to the victims of this pretty devastating tragedy," said regional supervisor of the Montana Conservation Corps Bobby Grillo.