Who DAT? Meet the New Orleans NPRC Team

Disaster Response, Volunteer

Dalton Lasnier, Y’ALL:

“What are you doing for others?”
-
Martin Luther King, Jr.

The first time I heard this, I was sitting in the bleachers of AmeriCorps NCCC’s Southern Region campus, day 1 of my service in the inaugural class of FEMA Corps. Then Director Gary Turner was passing down the question from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the question burned hot, like a torch.

My first thought was, “I hope he doesn’t single me out to answer.” Luckily, he didn’t, but it got my mind moving. For many years, I have wondered what my contribution to the world would be. What can I give? Or rather, what WILL I give that people will love, and more importantly, need? The question carried a lot of weight, but it was important, and it stuck with me when I helped survivors with housing relocation after Hurricane Isaac in Louisiana. The question continued to drive me for 5 months in New York City after Hurricane Sandy, knocking door-to-door across Queens, passing out essential supplies to families who had lost everything and spending weeks discovering who needed emergency food options and how they would get it. For my last project, I was assigned in Atlanta, GA for disaster prevention/mitigation work in the Region 4 FEMA HQ. Apart from the inherent rewarding qualities of my work, my most fulfilling moment of my final project was visiting the tomb of Dr. King himself, and I finally got to show him the answer to his question. Wearing khakis and a gray t-shirt with “The A” embroidered on my sleeve, I showed Dr. King EXACTLY what I was doing for others. It was then that I realized, with The Eternal Flame burning behind me as a symbol of persistence and hope, I wouldn’t stop there.

After graduating from my term with AmeriCorps, I sought out my next service adventure. Landing a two month service project in Costa Rica, I worked on an organic farm and learned a simpler way of living, and had plenty of time to dream about where I would end up next. Traveling to Costa Rica was eye-opening, but I was left with a desire to get back to where I was before. Service to my fellow man is what got me involved in volunteerism to begin with, and being fortunate enough to be involved in exclusively disaster-related projects has given me the mindset required, as well as the tools and experience.

In my New York project term, I spent 10 weeks in communications with the emergency feeding teams of the American Red Cross (ARC). Our work was all about determining which areas still needed emergency feeding and which areas were improving. I worked with FEMA to collaborate with ARC on the data and completed, submitted, and presented summary assessments of emergency feeding for Queens and Nassau County, which has now become the standard assessment format for emergency feeding efforts for disasters of this scale. I loved the fulfilling nature of this work, and couldn’t help but marvel at the professionalism and organization of their efforts.

It was because of this experience, this life-changing adventure, that I was driven to become part of the American Red Cross and serve my fellow man once again in a high capacity with disaster-related work.

Now here I am, getting things done again, and it is the most remarkable feeling of my entire life.

 

Ashley van Waes, Y’ALL:

”People who love their country can change it.”
–President Barack Obama at the 20th Anniversary of Americorps Ceremony

Hey y’all,

One month under our Ameri-belts! The past four weeks have been a whirlwind of shaking hands, classrooms, po’ boys, and the general transition to life in the Big Easy. My reflections thus far: it’s been a duck-pluckin’ good time.

I am originally from Nebraska with a background in international business and economics. After graduation I planned to take some time before returning to school to complete my Masters in the global health field. I knew that becoming an Americorps member would offer me the chance to grow both personally and professionally. Working for the Red Cross as an NPRC member was an opportunity I enthusiastically pursued because I felt as though it included many of my core values. The nature of this position is challenging, adventurous, and purposeful; all ideals I crave at an innermost level.

I am so proud to be a part of this team and don the red vest. It is inspiring to be surrounded by those that have turned their passions into a career and to know we are giving assistance to those who need it most. Cheers to the next ten months!

-AVW

Sarah Smaldone, Y’ALL:

Hello! My name is Sarah and I’m one of the three AmeriCorps NPRC members in New Orleans. Ending up in New Orleans was a surprise since I thought that I would be back in Oregon once I was done with school. I’m originally from Salem, Oregon, which is where I grew up and went to high school. I went to college at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, where I majored in politics and government.

Over the years there have been a couple of things that got me interested in what the Red Cross does. Growing up, I had a good family friend who served in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua. When she was finished with her Peace Corps term, she worked for the Red Cross (also in Nicaragua). Later, when I was in high school, my 11th grade science teacher had us help her organize the Red Cross blood drive. She also got us to donate blood.  This was the first time I donated blood, which is something that I have continued to do ever since.

Last year, when I was a senior in college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do once I was done with school. Even though I had given some thought about going on to graduate school, I wanted to take a year or two off from school. I have a couple of friends who are doing AmeriCorps in Portland, Oregon and they seemed to really enjoy it. I decided to look into it myself since I wanted the opportunity to give back. I came across the NPRC program in New Orleans and thought that it seemed like something that would be a great experience. I found out that I got the job less than two weeks before it started! Over the course of the next ten or so months I hope to be able to make a difference!

The New Crew—Baton Rouge

Volunteer
@ the New Orleans, WWII Museum (left-to-right) Justin, Stephenie, and Dylan

@ the New Orleans, WWII Museum
(left-to-right) Justin, Stephenie, and Dylan

Answering the Questions:
Who are We, and Why are We Even Here?

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Justin

The road started twisting sharply. Like Arkansas, itself, was pushing me off the road, toward some sort of unholy and cavernous death. The rubber tires jerked underneath me, following the sudden curves that coiled me around the range. Yeah—those Boston Mountains held steep drops off either side. And thin roads for passing. Clearly lacking any empathy—to me, to the Grand Cherokee, to the nine hour stint I had already travelled. Nine hours since the morning. And something like the same amount lay in front of me. Kearney to Baton Rouge. Home to a place my tires just felt for the first time. Fresh and graying cement. But those past nine hours hit me suddenly—pressing my eyes closed. Making my hands jerk the steel axel underneath, the whole vehicle slamming left and right. I could hardly keep the wheel smooth or the horns from blaring all around me. Get off the road. Some yelled that, or maybe that was the recurring thought in my own head. I don’t remember, now. But I had searched for the refuge of a town, a hotel, a place to park the jeep and crawl in the back to sleep in some contorted ball. I was nine hours from Baton Rouge. Nine more hours and half-way there.

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Dylan

The college graduation date was approaching, and the more I wondered about my uncertain future, the more life began to feel overwhelmingly real. What do I do now? Since the first day of Kindergarten, I had been working toward the same goal: to finish school. Just take one semester at a time, and make “good grades” along the way. But…what do I do, now? I asked my Internet’s search engine, but Google seemed to ramble, giving little substance, really, behind any of her answers. It took a few weeks and a fire to start making sense of everything. I remember looking at him: the way he kept pacing back and forth across the sidewalk and lawn. Sirens, blue and red pulses of flash, that thick campfire smell to the whole scene. He kept pacing, just looking at what was left. I remember how his brow was wrinkled up into itself, and it stayed that way for the whole time we talked–through the paperwork and attempts I made at fixing things. I haven’t seen him since that night, but I wonder. I wonder if his brow is still that way, or if it finally relaxed.

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Stephenie

“Hey ya’ll, did you see that new boy there from St. Bernard parish?” I was getting all my books and things from the locker, just fretting over the physics mid-term next period.

“Nah, I hadn’t heard anything. That one from down yonder?” Karly brushed a strand of auburn hair behind her ear.

“Chalmette or something—place is under water, now.” I stopped. Under water—seemed wild, if you thought much about it. The whole storm had happened some weeks before, and when it did, people had put a few pictures up. Mainly on Facebook or Twitter. I remember clicking through the scroll something fierce, not thinking too much on any of them. But, then, one hit me. The house had an old oak tree, with those twisting branches that danced with each other and all. Someone had built a white swing off it, and the swing floated on the water out away from the house. I stopped because I had a white swing myself, but no water for floating. Just a mild wind swaying it this way and that. I guess it, just all of a sudden, seemed different, somehow.

The bell rang in the school hallway.

“Oh, shh—oot. I’m late for my test.” I took off in a dead sprint down the blue and white tile.

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Stephenie 

I ran plum into him before I even realized he was there. Ten foot tall, I swear it, with dark blonde hair and purple eyes. It knocked all his books on the ground, papers scattering all around us. “I’m so, so, sor—”

He turned his back, starting to shuffle through all the sheets on the ground, making a haphazard order out of all the mess.

“Can I help you?” I bent down and started putting books in a pile.

He snatched them away. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Well, jeeze, aren’t you just wound up like an eight day clock.” I looked at my watch, but it was already five minutes past the bell. I had to go. I had to go, and with him left there sorting through the mess on the floor. Something about that day stuck with me, with me rushing out and him left there. Like a fly on a swatter, it did.

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Justin 

Square and brick. Red brick. Thousands of them, hand-held sized, and a tan mortar to keep them apart. The building housed signs and symbols of the ARC. Also red and square. While the Grand Cherokee hissed in the lot. It’s engine cooling in the stiff heat and thick humidity. Mother Nature was at peace. But I reached Baton Rouge in the thick of hurricane season, expecting some real grit from the old Mother. I imagined high winds bending trees to forty-five degrees, while water slapped windows and the brick. The inside reeking of coffee and a sweating pile of hours unslept. Missed somehow. Could this brick beast stand its own against Nature, herself? And would I be here long enough to find out? Maybe. But not that night. The sun was already stumbling down under the crest, and I had to acclimate to a new housing of sorts. No, not that night—not quite yet.

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Dylan

How I ended up as an AmeriCorps NPRC member came as a result of me being in the right place at the right time. It seemed like a series of near-perfect opportunities. A degree in Disaster Science and Management practically under my belt, a local Red Cross chapter needing help in the form of volunteers. By April, it seemed like I was actually out there. Right in the middle of everything that I learned while sitting in plastic, classroom seats, scribbling notes on the fold-over desk tops. It was in those moments after leaving a fire, driving home with soggy shoes on my feet and clothes reeking of thick, dark smoke. It was in those moments that my existence felt justified. And I was meeting AmeriCorps members who were there, in the process of finishing their year of service, but working full time in the field. They stressed the long hours, hard work, and little pay, but I didn’t mind. Somewhere, in that time, I became an AmeriCorps member, myself. I took over what they had left.

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The We, Three

Does this explain who we are? Why we’re here? The decisions we made, the goals, the ambitions? Maybe. In some ways—maybe. But, in all the shades and hues of us, we’re still trying to answer these questions, ourselves. And we don’t find any shame in our stumbling attempts. Just three people—young, dumb, trying to do some good and stay out of trouble. And that’s the key word: trying. Just one day at a time. Repeated again and again over the span of eleven months. Just one day at a time. And maybe, if asked a year from now, we’d have better answers. Or maybe we’ll be even farther away.

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Our 2013-2014 NPRC Team has officially graduated! Some of our members are going on to complete graduate degrees, Tony will be completing a 2nd AmeriCorps term with Rebuilding Together New Orleans, and Grant will be starting a term of service with Teach NOLA. Those of us here in the region wish them the best of luck on their adventures and look forward to meeting our next NPRC group in September. Stay tuned for information on the 2014-2015 NPRC Members!

Our 2013-2014 NPRC Team has officially graduated! Some of our members are going on to complete graduate degrees, Tony will be completing a 2nd AmeriCorps term with Rebuilding Together New Orleans, and Grant will be starting a term of service with Teach NOLA. Those of us here in the region wish them the best of luck on their adventures and look forward to meeting our next NPRC group in September. Stay tuned for information on the 2014-2015 NPRC Members!

June Update!

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Good morning, everyone!

Things have been very busy around the office this month and there has been little time to write!

 We love hearing from those of you interested in future NPRC terms, so keep up the contact! Applications are still open, so if you know anyone who might be interested in the positions, send them over. 

 In other news, hurricane season is upon us! We’ve heard a few different predictions about what to expect from the season, but if you’re anything like us we like to be prepared for anything and everything. There have been meetings galore here in South Louisiana and while our days have been extra long, we’ve learned a lot. We have been able to meet with several new volunteers and several of our deploying volunteers that we rarely get to see in person. The bigger picture of what will happen in the event of a storm is much clearer now that we’ve had nearly a year of work with the Red Cross. There are so many different organizations and government groups involved, so many people and so many different variables! This is a great place to serve if you’re looking into a career in disaster management, emergency management, etc. because we are right in the heart of hurricane planning and preparedness!

 There has been a lot of progress on the clean up front (a project run by Volunteer Services that we discussed in a previous entry) and by the end of the month we should be able to create a phone tree for all of our trained volunteers! We have been working on this project for months, so it is incredibly satisfying to see it coming to an end. 

 Speaking of ends, there are only two more weeks of the AmeriCorps term. There is an odd mixture of sadness and excitement about finishing an AmeriCorps term that is unique to the world of service. We all hope to carry the lessons we gained this year with us so that we can become more successful, patient people.

 This is an unusually short entry, but we just wanted to let you know that we’re still active and working hard! As always, please direct questions about becoming an AmeriCorps NPRC Member to our supervisor, Carolanne (Carolanne.Fernandez@RedCross.org). We will be writing just a few more entries and then we will all be moving on to other exciting adventures! Thanks for reading =]

-The New Orleans NPRC Team

Updates: NPRC Class 2014-2015

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Good morning and happy Thursday, readers!

We know that are quite a few of you looking into the program, so we wanted to keep you in the loop! There are several changes coming to the program and announcements regarding the positions. Please keep reading for more information!

1) The NPRC applications will be open by the end of the week! Start updating your AmeriCorps application, if you haven’t already done so. If you are currently an AmeriCorps Member or have been in the recent past, having a recommendation from a Team Leader or direct supervisor is recommended.

2) The NPRC term will start the first week of September, NOT the first week of August (see #3 for the reason)

3) There has been a lot of concern in the Ameri-world about AmeriCorps insurance. Currently AmeriCorps Members do not have insurance that fulfill federal requirements (since all of the new laws have gone into effect). The NPRC is working hard to ensure that all Corps Members have adequate healthcare and we are happy to annouce that new policies will be in effect by September 1st!

4) Our departments are already working closely with eachother to come up with a detailed work plan for the term, which means no hurry up and wait situations!

5) Louisiana NPRC will be trained to serve in a wide variety of positions, but will primarily focus on one of three areas:
Preparedness & Resiliency: Education and awareness with a special focus on at-risk populations
Emergency Services: Focus will be on casework with clients affected by disasters and Service to the Armed Forces (SAF)
Capacity Building: Focus will be in two areas: Facilities (shelters) and Volunteer Services (volunteer recruitment, event coordination, etc)

6) Sub-roles will give more leadership to Corps Members (and another chance to build up resumes)
Volunteer Liaison: Will take the lead on volunteer recognition events and monthly meetings; will organize NPRC-taught classes
Development Coordinator: Will take the lead on organizing monthly volunteer activities and team building/ professional development activities (including Days of Service)
AmeriCorps Public Affairs Officer: Will take the lead on AmeriCorps social media accounts (like this blog), work with Melissa to get the press to Red Cross/ AmeriCorps events and help develop new recruitment materials (such as the brochure)

7) Just a friendly reminder that taking a Red Cross AmeriCorps position does not mean a Monday through Friday 40 hour a week position. There are many Saturday events, evening classes and disaster deployments! There will be a renewed effort, however, to give “flex time” to our members to make sure that nobody is getting burnt out!!

Well, that’s all we’ve got for you today. If you have any questions about the program, please e-mail Carolanne.Fernandez@RedCross.org . It also can’t hurt to send an e-mail if you’re looking to apply to put your name out there as well!

Response to Recent Storms – Tornado Season 2014

2013-2014 NPRC Team, Disaster Response, Volunteer Services

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The American Red Cross responds to disasters thousands of times a year across the country. Some disasters are small and are handled by a single Chapter or Region. These disasters can be anything from a single family fire to flooding to a train derailment. Sometimes, however, the disasters are too big for the small group of trained Red Cross Volunteers. When this happens, requests go out in the national database, Volunteer Connection. First requests go out to 500 miles, then 1,000, then 1,500 etc. The first requests tend to be for things like Disaster Mental health, feeding and sheltering. Requests flood in quickly in the days after a disaster. then pop up sporadically for the next few weeks, as new volunteers replace the ones that have been deployed for two or three weeks.

So who do we send on disaster? Well, the answer is anyone that wants to go. There’s training, of course, and volunteers need to be in good health, but we send an eclectic group of old and young, professionals and retirees, college students and AmeriCorps Members. Volunteer Services assigns volunteers to a specific GAP (Group/Activity/Position such as Mass Care/Feeding/Supervisor) and disaster. Volunteer Services then meets with the volunteer to assign a staff card (for purchases) and complete paperwork. The Volunteer will then have a phone number to call to arrange travel and will leave as soon as possible.

Yesterday we assigned 7 volunteers, 1 staff member and 2 AmeriCorps Members to DR 24-2014 in Mississippi. A majority of the group will be working in feeding and took two of our Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) on the road yesterday evening. Each ERV can feed 3,000 meals a day and help with the distribution of goods such as sunscreen, bugspray, water and cleanup kits.

Pictured above is our feeding team! In order: Thomas (New Orleans DAT Captain), Julia (AmeriCorps NPRC), Beulah (long-time volunteer) and Grant (AmeriCorps NPRC).
If you’d like to be a disaster responder, contact your local chapter today! If you live in the New Orleans area, contact Carolanne.Fernandez@RedCross.org
You can donate to the response effort online at RedCross.org, through mail at 2640 Canal Street New Orleans, LA 70119 or by texting “REDCROSS” to 90999.