Monday, October 14, 2013

Fun in Colorado!

At the end of last round, I was loudly and boldly proclaiming that I never wanted to stay in a hotel room again, and I think God (with his excellent sense of humor) heard my prayer. Our housing on this disaster has been, well, interesting. Initially we were staying in dorm rooms on campus which was great until they kicked us out in order to fumigate the building. I guess there was a bed bug issue... Next we moved to the Boulder County fairgrounds. We slept on cots and thought we were roughing it. My mom said, "Sam! You're so tough!" Little did we know, they were saving the best for last: an abandoned Big Box store complete with no windows, no showers, 80 other inhabitants, cots, pallets, fluorescent lights (half of which stay on at night), and a leaky roof. It is not ideal, but in typical fashion we make the most of it and have kept a sense of humor.
 3 am, I kid you not
 Raining inside
Making it homey with some pallet bookshelves/walls

On any given day there is roller-blading, skateboarding, roller derby, floor hockey, football, and softball. It is basically a giant sleepover and something I don't think I'll ever forget. Here's to the next four weeks here!

Work in Colorado!

I don't think it's any secret that I have enjoyed the beauty that is Colorado during the time I've spent here in training and transition. These darn mountains astound me every time I catch a glimpse of them!
When I found out that we would be spending our final round here in Colorado, helping survivors of the historic floods, I was thrilled. Not only would I get to spend more time here, my team would be busy working on a active disaster and all of my friends' teams were stationed here as well.

It is hard to sum up everything that has happened this round into a brief, readable blog post, but here goes:

Day one: assembling information on local response to distribute to teams working in the field
Day two: registering survivors from the town of Lyons as soon as they disembarked from their helicopter, mandatory evacuation
Days three - seven: registering people as they wait in line at a shelter for temporary passes into Lyons so they can assess their property and get as much of it out of the town as possible
Weeks two - four: canvassing neighborhoods in various affected communities in the foothills, mountains, and Denver area

The work was certainly busy and rewarding at first, but it has been slowing down significantly, so I am eager to see what they have us do next.


September brought two weeks of much needed vacation time. It was great seeing family and friends in Wisconsin and spending time with Logan in Omaha.
 We won medals in a 5K! Yes those are matching headbands
 The Omaha Zoo and Aquarium

Grilling and homemade cheese curds! Yum!
Okay, maybe this one isn't a highlight, but it was memorable. I had to get stitches after a minor bike fall. I was a little scratched and banged up for a few days...

After the break, I felt refreshed and ready to sprint towards graduation which will be taking place on November 20th. I can't believe how fast the end approaches, and I can't wait to see what's next!

Friday, August 30, 2013

New York, New York!

As I was working in Long Island for a month this summer, I took advantage of my proximity to the city during the weekends. We drove to Queens, then took the subway to get into Manhattan and around the city. I enjoyed seeing all the sites, but I'll still have to go back someday to catch a Broadway show.
NBC Studios, Rockefeller Plaza
Times Square
View of Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry
Statue of Liberty

 Beautiful Central Park
One Saturday in Staten Island my team helped build an entire playground with KaBOOM! (Just like on Parks and Rec!) This was a highlight of the program for me thus far. We worked hard and got very dirty and sweaty, but it was so. much. fun. and now the children of this Staten Island community which was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy can have a safe and awesome place to enjoy themselves.
Raking tons of mulch at the playground build
I am so grateful that I have had so many opportunities to see the country and participate in such a variety of service over these last seven months. Only three months to go!

Long Island!

When we left Oklahoma City in July (with about 12 hours of notice) we thought we were headed to assist disaster survivors in the Albany area, but during our trek across the county, we were reassigned to Long Island to work on a hazard mitigation project. This assignment has proved to be one of my favorites of this program so far.

Each day as I did my work in the community of Long Beach, New York, I caught glimpses of the ocean beyond the apartment buildings, condominiums, and homes which we inspected. I could smell it and feel its salty breeze. After weeks of this, my coworker and I finally decided to take our lunch break on the beach. I was incredibly thankful that I was able to splash in the shallow waves in the middle of a work week. If it wasn’t for AmeriCorps I almost certainly would not have stood in the ocean this month. After wading around for a while, I spoke with a couple who live in Long Beach and were enjoying the beautiful day. It was a powerful moment as they told us about their community’s experience with Super Storm Sandy and that same ocean’s power which devastated the area. This remarkable water is both beautiful and hazardous. I am impressed by the tenacity of the locals who refuse to abandon their beautiful community in spite of the risk. Once again, I was moved by the incredible power of nature and of the human spirit.

 At the beach over my lunch break
Enjoying the beach with some friends and teammates

Long Island is quite the place and I enjoyed experiencing a bit of the LI culture (accents anyone?). I saw the Amityville Horror house, took the Subway in Queens, spent hours at the lovely beaches, and partook in my first "Shark Week" (did you know Jaws was partially based on a record-sized Great White caught off of Long Island?!).

Thursday, July 18, 2013


On June 24th, my team arrived in Oklahoma City in order to respond to the recent tornadoes, severe storms, and flooding. As many of you likely saw on the news, there were three singnificant tornados during the month of May that left Moore, Shawnee, and El Reno Oklahoma painfully aware of the power of nature. The devestation I saw was intense and hard to express. I walked down streets with piles of rubble on one end, half ripped-apart homes in the middle, and barely scathed houses just blocks away. The stories I heard were terrifying, tragic, and touching.

Exposure to these disasters has left me with a strong impression of the power of the human spirit. Humans survive. People in Joplin, Illinois, Oklahoma, and New York are picking up the pieces of their lives each day. They live with memories of the horror, but they refuse to be conquered by them. They come out of their homes to thank us; they shake our hands in convenience stores. They certainly mourn for what they lost, but they are all the more thankful for what they have. They teach me about grace and hope each day.

 This is a strip mall that the Moore tornado ripped through very close to the neighborhood where I worked.  
This deployment also featured some unique housing situations. One week we slept on cots in a homeless shelter's gymnasium. Then we were in a hotel for a couple of nights before moving to a fancy apartment building (A kitchen! My own bed!).
Finally, I was blessed by another (!) visit from Logan over the Fourth of July weekend. So thankful for some days off and a best friend to spend it with! For future reference, however, Oklahoma City isn't our first choice for vacation destination...

Because our teams in Oklahoma did such an efficient job, we finished the job before our deadline. This meant that I sorted donations for a few days before we were called up to another deployment. Because of that experience, i feel like i need to ask this of anyone who might be reading: when a disaster hits and you want to help, please don't send "stuff". The in-kind donations are all stored in a warehouse and require manpower, rent, utilities, etc. Oftentimes, the donations aren't exactly what is needed which leads to inefficiencies and challenges for FEMA and the non-profits on the ground. Instead, give monetary donations to the Red Cross or another reputable organization that is involved. Thanks!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Denver Again!

After about a month in Illinois, my lovely team headed back to Denver for a week of transition. It has been great hanging out with friends from other teams, enjoying the mountain views, and taking some time to reflect and look forward.  It has been hot here and a bit smokey, but I love Denver and am happy to be here for a bit.
 The amazing sky (why is God so freakin good!?!)
 With friends downtown during Denver's Pride Fest
As we head to Oklahoma this coming Sunday, my team will be significantly smaller than when we started out in February. We already miss Jennifer, Ethan, and Laisa so much but wish them the best! This program isn't for everyone. A year of service is hard; working for the government is hard; living with eight diverse individuals is hard. But the rest of us are in it to win it. I love my team!!

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