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AmeriCorps Alum Victoria Sharp: A Portrait of the Artist as an Emergency Responder

by Kate Enos

“A volunteer called to alert us about the first plane. We went into the classroom, which had the only TV and turned it to a local news channel. After adjusting the rabbit ears on top, we all witnessed the second plane hit just a few moments later. I think we all had the same reaction and that was pure terror."

"Instantly, we all knew it wasn't an accident. At that moment, the phones at the Red Cross starting ringing non-stop and it would be like that for over a week.”

September 11 was Victoria Sharp's second day of service as an AmeriCorps member with the Atlanta Red Cross National Preparedness and Response Corps. Sharp, who earned a Bachelor's of Fine Arts from the University of Georgia, thought about the timing of her decision to serve in the National Preparedness and Response Corps. Perhaps fate played a part.

“I was truly humbled and blessed to be in a position to help, serve and respond to this at a time when so many others I knew wanted to. I had been selected for a mission and was so eager to help with the Red Cross.”

Sharp deployed to Fairfield, New Jersey, to serve as a Family Service Caseworker. She immediately went to Ground Zero.

“Seeing Ground Zero in person and being there is an experience never to be fully actualized through the television. The smoke from Ground Zero could be seen from everywhere. Every single person you encountered was eager to share their story."

"On a trip through the subway, you would be connected through a few degrees of separation because of someone who knew someone who lost their lives – survivor's guilt, I learned, is what affected many post-9/11.”

Many of her clients were widows of Cantor Fitzgerald employees, the financial company that lost three out of every four employees at the firm that day.

“These women had no idea about their husbands' accounts, which presented an additional layer of unforeseen stress to the situation when bills and notices started to arrive. Some were left virtually penniless merely because they didn't know anything about their husbands' financial systems. Every client I met with said the same thing: 'I just never thought anything like this would happen to me.'”

Witnessing the anxiety wrought by the effects of the tragedy, Sharp has made it a personal goal to stress with others the importance of knowing your family's financial information.

“No one ever thinks it's going to happen to them and sometimes it doesn't. But it's best to be safe than sorry.”

Ten years later, Sharp works in the field of emergency preparedness at the Centers for Disease Control in the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response. She addresses specific preparedness issues with targeted communities, engaging in collaborative efforts with the public sector and the business and nonprofit communities.

“Joining AmeriCorps in 2001 was indeed a life-altering experience. It's a story of my life for which I am most proud and will forever impact me wherever I go.”

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