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Lessons Learned: A Q&A with AmeriCorps Member and Joplin Veteran, Abby Simons

by Samantha Jo Warfield

To mark the one-year anniversary of the May 22 Joplin tornado, we'll be featuring a variety of content on the serve.gov blog, including Q&As with those who served in the community, like this one.

Question: What went through your mind when you first landed in Joplin?

Simons: Despite having driven through the night to arrive the morning of the 23rd, I felt energized and ready to face the uncertainty that would be coming. I joined my team, who had arrived a few hours before, and stepped up to fill the holes that had not yet been met. While adrenaline was pumping through my veins, I actually felt a sense of calm because my team and I were prepared to get the process of our response started. Things were coming together in those first few hours by simply utilizing the resources and knowledge we had brought from our St. Louis office. We were getting things done.

Question: Tell us about the moment that touched you most.

Simons: While we had thousands of inspirational volunteers in Joplin, but a few really made an impact on me. One young man, Toshi, traveled from Japan to volunteer with us. While his community was still recovering from the terrible earthquake earlier that year, he devoted his time in a town he had never heard of: Joplin, Missouri. He was paying forward the American support that flooded to Japan after its disasters.

While Toshi left us several inspirational stories, he told me that he wanted to take what he had learned in Joplin back home and create a volunteer center, one that would be ready to respond during a disaster. This led me to look back at my personal service trips to New Orleans and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina and how those volunteer trips influenced me. They inspired me to continue serving and to lead others into service in hopes that they will bring it back home with them.

Question: How are you continuing your service?

Simons: I signed up for a second year [in AmeriCorps] because I feel in love with AmeriCorps St. Louis and want to see it succeed. I want to continue to be a part of a program that had accomplished amazing things in the short time I had been serving. Being such a member driven program, I also felt that there was even more to gain from signing up for another year with AmeriCorps St. Louis.

Question: How have you changed? What skills have you gained since first arriving in Joplin?

Simons: My service during the Joplin Tornado response pushed me in to roles of responsibility and leadership that I couldn't have ever imagined for myself. Now, I feel confident that I can and will succeed when I am faced with a challenge or opportunity that seems a little far out of reach.

Question: What do you see yourself doing in 5 years? How has your service in Joplin influenced that vision?

Simons: I am currently researching graduate programs in Public Administration with an emphasis in Emergency Management and Nonprofit Management. I hope to become a facilitator of change in our county. The Joplin response definitely had a big part in paving this path for me by allowing me to work directly with our State and Federal Emergency Management partners.

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