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.
At work when the tornado hit, I was away from all of my family and didn't have anyone to cling to during the chaos. After two hours of fighting traffic to get home, I was lucky to find both my family and home still standing. My aunt and uncle weren't so lucky.
This experience was something I feared, but never thought would happen to me. Joplin was unrecognizable in every aspect. My high school was completely destroyed and St. John's Hospital, where I was born, was severely damaged.
While volunteering at a disaster recovery center, I started noticing individuals in AmeriCorps uniforms. I had no idea who these people were, or what their purpose was.
All I knew was -- they were there to help.
In March, AmeriCorps came to Joplin High School and spoke to my senior class. I listened as members from different AmeriCorps programs told their stories, and it struck me:
I felt like this is what I was destined to do.
I knew there was something more to life; more than graduating high school, going to college, and getting a career. I thought about AmeriCorps for weeks. Finally, I came to the simple conclusion.
I want to give back to other communities like they have done for me. When everything was gone, and I felt like I had nothing left, people were there, giving me hope, confidence, and faith that everything would be okay. They gave up their personal time, to be that one smile, that one person, that one positive thing not only to make a difference, but to leave an everlasting impact.
I want to be that person for someone else.
Earlier this year, I was pleased to learn I had been accepted into the AmeriCorps NCCC program, and last month I traveled to Vicksburg, Mississippi to begin my journey as an AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps member.
Early on, I had the privilege of meeting Sean Kerr, a FEMA Corps Team Leader who last year was serving with AmeriCorps NCCC. He arrived in Joplin twenty-three hours after the tornado hit. Meeting someone who was not only selfless, but so proud to volunteer and help people in need, meant the world to me.
My whole purpose of sharing my story is simply this:
It only takes one second, one blink of an eye, for your world to be completely flipped upside down; to lose everything you've ever known, and not know where life is taking you from that point forward.
Be thankful for what you have, and try your hardest to not take things for granted; life is only so long. Help others while you can, share your story because you never know who you will inspire, or make an impact on. Today, I am an AmeriCorps NCCC member in FEMA Corps to make a difference, and that's exactly what I plan to do.
Mariah Hutchinson is a 2012 graduate of Joplin High School and a current AmeriCorps NCCC member in FEMA Corps.