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Disaster

For many, knowing the relationship between natural disasters and volunteers is limited to response and recovery. It conjures up images of volunteers pulling survivors from rubble, sorting through debris, delivering supplies, consoling victims, and rebuilding communities. But service and volunteerism has a place in disasters long before one actually hits; much can be done in terms of preparation and readiness.

In the wake of chaos and tragedy following the September 11th tragedy, AmeriCorps members from the National Preparedness and Response Corps of the Atlanta Red Cross were deployed to Ground Zero. Among those who served was then-70-year-old Donald Trantow.

On May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado struck my hometown of Joplin, Missouri. Nearly every resident was affected. The tornado destroyed approximately 18,000 vehicles, 7,000 homes, 5,000 businesses, and took the lives of 162 people, including two of my high school classmates.

Zack Rosenburg was living a comfortable life as an attorney in Washington, DC when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005. And while Americans came from all over to New Orleans to help, Zack took the extra step of leaving his job, moving to New Orleans and devoting himself fully to the recovery.

As a native of Long Island, the attacks of September 11th, 2001 hit close to home for Tracy Connelly. Loved ones working in the World Trade Center were missing. Family members responding to the attacks were injured. For 36 hours, she had no idea where her father was. Days after the events, Connelly learned of friends' deaths by passing their memorials in Penn Station.

New Orleans knows a lot about service. The city has a rich history steeped in volunteerism and national service. They also know, perhaps more than any other U.S. City, that service plays a critical role in transforming a place that suffered unimaginable destruction.

After Hurricane Katrina, the city once known for its lively and colorful neighborhoods, personalities, and culture was left shaken – swimming in floodwater and debris. At that point, it was hard to imagine that the city would ever return to its once vibrant self. Yet, just six years later, New Orleans has been reborn.

On the Sunday evening of May 22, Bruce Bailey, founder of the AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team, had just arrived at a barbecue in Kansas City with his colleagues and buddies.

The tireless efforts of our AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and other volunteers in disaster sites across the nation deserves recognition. On Thankful Thursday, we wanted to give others a chance to share in our gratitude.

In the aftermath of the devastating tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma, last week, the Corporation for National and Community Service is working closely with federal, state, and local officials to deploy AmeriCorps members to the region early Tuesday, May 21. As of Thursday, May 30, 96 AmeriCorps members had boots on the ground.

President Obama’s words remind us of the remarkable way in which Americans across the country will unite after tragedy strikes, just as they have done in the wake of the devastating tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma yesterday.

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