Here’s a story from the AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team, which last week for Holmes County, Mississippi to help with tornado clean-up. AmeriCorps members took chainsaws, tools, generators and other gear to the disaster zone. 25 people were injured and one person died in Holmes County during last weekend's storms.
After nearly a week of lengthy days that make 12 hour shifts seem like a blessing, we completed over 13 work requests with the help of over 100 volunteers. We are all exhausted, faced vehicle issues, and may have damaged some of our best chainsaws beyond repair.
We are now coordinating Volunteer Reception Centers (VRC) in Holmes and Choctaw County, running two field teams of Americorps members in Holmes County and reaching out to over 150 households who, a week ago, didn't exist in our lives. These families, our partners, community members and other volunteers have now not only become part of our daily lives, but part of our reason for being.
Yesterday a young boy, about 8 years-old, came into the VRC, which is also functioning as a point of distribution (POD) for donations, to replace clothing he had lost in the tornado. He asked for help finding clothes and after shuffling through piles on the table I handed him a red plaid shirt. He pulled it on and, as his head reappeared, one of the biggest smiles I have ever seen was painted across his face. He was glowing with the pride and purpose that I can only assume is hard to regain after losing everything you have known. It was the greatest reward of my trip so far.
Yesterday I met with Mr. Brown's daughter, Rachel, on the property where her father's house once stood. Mr. Brown was the sole fatality in Holmes County. As I understand it, his home was lifted off its cinderblocks and thrown into a field on the other side of the road. Cleaning up the Brown's property will take days, hundreds of volunteer hours, and a variety of tools and machinery. Certainly no easy task, but within hours of my time with Rachel, three different volunteer groups of over 100 people were anxious to begin work. The volunteers were from Tennessee, North Carolina and other counties in Mississippi. People coming together, side by side for a common task: humanity.
So in the end today, like every day we have been here, totals out to be a great day because of the people we meet, the lives we have the opportunity to help make better and the friendships we build on the team. This has been a reminder to myself of why we are AmeriCorps.