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Wendy Spencer

By: Wendy SpencerEarlier this week I traveled to Joplin, Missouri, for a trip I will never forget. The Joplin story is one of a community that never gave up, that demonstrated steely resolve in the face of tragedy, and that is coming back stronger and better than before. It is also the story of volunteers – 130,000 strong and counting – whose selfless service has lifted up an entire community when it needed it most.For many residents, the one year anniversary was a painful reminder of the devastating EF-5 tornado that ripped through Joplin, killing 161 people, destroying 7,500 homes and buildings, and leaving a trail of destruction through the heart of the city.But even more so, the anniversary was a symbol of hope, pride, optimism, and unity. The people of Joplin did not let themselves be defined by what happened on May 22, 2011. Instead they defined themselves by what happened after - their extraordinary resilience and desire to rebuild.As President Obama told the graduating seniors at Joplin High School, “Here in Joplin, you’ve also learned that we have the power to grow from these experiences. We can define our own lives, not by what happens to us, but by how we respond. We can choose to carry on, to make a difference in the world.”REBUILDING STRONGER Driving through Joplin, the signs of progress are everywhere. Businesses are reopening, homes are being rebuilt, and neighborhoods are coming back. The Chamber of Commerce reports that more than 80 percent of businesses have reopened, and 25 brand new businesses have started. Throughout the tornado zone, contractors and volunteers are building new homes or repairing damaged ones.My first stop was at one of those homes. Jeanie and Warner George have lived on 32nd Street in West Joplin for 38 years. The tornado badly damaged their home, destroying the roof and garage and causing all the walls, floors, and surfaces to be covered in mold. Due to medical bills that have run their life savings to nothing, salvaging their home seemed impossible. Then, three months ago, a member of the AmeriCorps St. Louis recovery team called to check on the Georges to see if they needed any help.With the assistance of skilled volunteers and coordination by AmeriCorps, the house has been completely gutted, the damaged garage and roof have been removed, and in its place is all new subflooring, insulation, electric wiring, drywall, roof, windows, and garage with an added on first floor bedroom to accommodate Warner’s disability. Jeanie told me AmeriCorps members are doing more than rebuilding a home. “They have lifted our spirits. They saved us; they knew what to do when we didn’t know where to turn.“Jeanie’s gratitude is something I heard over and over in Joplin, and similar to what other disaster survivors have told me after hurricanes in my home state of Florida. Volunteers’ physical impact – whether removing debris, gutting a home, or rebuilding – is critical. But just as important is the emotional boost that comes when a group of strangers shows up at your door, showing compassion and kindness in the face of chaos. City Manager Mark Rohr has called this “the miracle of the human spirit.”POWER OF PARTNERSHIPSJoplin’s swift recovery isn’t about one group of volunteers, one nonprofit, or a single government agency. It’s about partnerships - thousands of people working together to achieve collective impact. On Tuesday morning, I spoke with 35 leaders of Joplin’s recovery – including representatives from FEMA, the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency, Joplin city officials, and leaders of the faith-based and nonprofit groups that have been on the front lines of recovery.We talked about the progress of the recovery, lessons learned, and the road ahead. The sheer size and destructive power of the Joplin tornado required fast and creative action. More than one leader said they had to throw the playbook out. Fortunately, strong relationships already existed between relief Missouri organizations, and through training, experience, and coordination they knew what to do.One essential component of Joplin’s swift recovery has been the existence of a strong and well-managed infrastructure to handle the massive influx of volunteers who have come to help. Joplin officials are grateful that the AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team arrived just hours after the tornado and immediately set up a volunteer operation to ensure volunteers were trained, tracked, transported, and deployed safely.In the first year, AmeriCorps members have coordinated more than 75,000 volunteers who have given 520,000 hours of service and completed more than 2,200 homeowner requests. I visited the AmeriCorps Recovery Center, the home base of this effort, to see how it works. AmeriCorps members track homeowner needs, register and deploy volunteers, and meticulously record their hours and progress. In addition to ensuring volunteers are used effectively, this AmeriCorps-led operation was instrumental in saving the city of Joplin more than $17.7 million in disaster costs. As Karen Benson, director of disaster response for Convoy of Hope, told me, “AmeriCorps is the glue that held this together.”At the center, I also had the opportunity to speak with 40 AmeriCorps members serving in Joplin and the surrounding areas. I heard from Darla Armstrong, a retired Joplin school teacher who joined the Bright Futures AmeriCorps VISTA program after the tornado to coordinate donations to students so they can stay focused on their studies. Abby Simon signed up for a second year with AmeriCorps St. Louis in order to continue helping Joplin recover. Several members, including Quinn Gardner, told me how their experience in AmeriCorps has led them to go into the emergency management careers. Since the tornado, more than 350 AmeriCorps members have served in Joplin, including 240 AmeriCorps NCCC members, and AmeriCorps commitment to Joplin remains strong.A WALK OF UNITY My trip to Joplin concluded with the Walk of Unity, an extraordinary walk along the path of the tornado that attracted more than 6,000 people. The city organized the walk to emphasize the spirit of togetherness that has made Joplin’s recovery possible. Looking across the sea of people, I was inspired by their sense of determination, pride, and optimism for the future.After the speakers had finished, we gathered at a section of Cunningham Park that is a tribute to volunteers. Symbols of the volunteer response are cast in bronze – a sledgehammer, work gloves, an AmeriCorps hardhat, and a simple plaque. It reads:“The Miracle of the Human Spirit symbolizes the incredible outpouring of volunteers who have lifted Joplin out of the rubble. Countless volunteers from all walks of life have offered themselves to the Joplin effort without request, serving as a reminder of the overwhelming power of human generosity and the steadfast tenacity to rebuild the once broken city… Joplin and its residents are eternally grateful to those heroes.”Joplin is not finished rebuilding, and neither are the rest of us. As we continue to support Joplin, let us also thank Joplin, for being an example to the world of what is possible when people come together.Wendy Spencer is Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service. To learn more about the national service response in Joplin, read the press release, blog posts and fact sheet, watch the video, and view photos.

Keywords: AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps NCCC, Disaster, Joplin, Missouri
By: Samantha Jo WarfieldAt 2:00 AM, on May 23rd, just eight hours after a deadly EF-5 tornado tore through Joplin, MO, the AmeriCorps St.
By: Samantha Jo WarfieldAt a press conference last Tuesday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon had this to say about the AmeriCorps members serving in the Joplin area: “I pushed more volunteers your way than maybe I should have. But I had the understanding that I could trust your operation. It appears I was right.”
By: Greg TuckerJust hours after a deadly EF-5 tornado struck Joplin, MO, in May 2011, AmeriCorps members began arriving to help with the recovery efforts.
By: Wendy SpencerEarlier this week I traveled to Joplin, Missouri, for a trip I will never forget. The Joplin story is one of a community that never gave up, that demonstrated steely resolve in the face of tragedy, and that is coming back stronger and better than before.
By: CNCS StaffTo mark the one-year anniversary of the May 22 Joplin tornado, we’ll be featuring a variety of content on the 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?Gardner: When I first got to Joplin, my immediate concern was connecting with my AmeriCorps St.
By: CNCS StaffTo mark the one-year anniversary of the May 22 Joplin tornado, we’ll be featuring a variety of content on the 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.
By: Will ChrysanthosTo those who have lived through devastation as complete as a tornado, every minute following the horror of wind and chaos is a perpetual memorial to the many who did not survive to see the skies clear again.Noon on January 31, 2012 will mark roughly eight months, eight days, and 18 hours since a cataclysmic, multi-vortex EF-5 tornado struck Joplin, MO.
By Joseph Clay, Former U.S. Marine Serves Tulsa Youth in AmeriCorps On Veterans Day 2015, CNCS CEO Wendy Spencer joined Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett in honoring veterans serving in AmeriCorps and Senior Corps at a Veterans Corps ceremony in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  One of the veterans she met that day was Joseph Clay, a former Marine Corps Sergeant now serving in AmeriCorps through Teach For America.  This is Joseph’s story.
By Jack Wingate, Teach for America
By Greg TuckerRuby Bridges’ walk to school became a symbol of the Civil Rights struggle  In 1960, 6-year-old Ruby Bridges’ daily walk to class took her past an angry mob and into Civil Rights history when she became the first African American child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to improving the world in which he lived—and challenged the rest of us to do the same. He not only championed the equal rights but also equal access to economic opportunity for all Americans. This year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service will honor his legacy as hundreds of thousands of Americans pay tribute by serving their communities on Monday, Jan. 20.
By CNCS Staff
For too many years we have addressed the equation of “fit body and fit minds” as requiring two separate interventions. For the mind, we’ve looked toward mentoring. For the body, we’ve turned to physical activity and health education. But our AmeriCorps investment proves that a national service member can be the catalyst to fit bodies and fit minds. Our formula has been to train our AmeriCorps members on how to use the power of coaching to build relationships with at-risk youth that inspire their healthy futures.
Our nation is more health-conscious and health-aware than ever, but for many there are still obstacles – an untreated disease, obesity, or lack of healthy food -- that prevent them from living their lives to the fullest. That needs to change, and our AmeriCorps members are working to make that happen every day.
The idea of combining service and leadership is one that defined the life of Cesar Chavez. He dedicated his life to bringing attention to the poverty of migrant farmworkers and other segments of the population that were marginalized or overlooked. Chavez also showed us that, no matter how humble our beginnings, we can all accomplish great things.
Lacking significant support from family, then-high school student Amanda Parris didn’t believe college was an option. But her enrollment in a dropout prevention program led to night classes at a local community college and awakened a desire to give back to others.
During your life’s journey, I am sure that you can remember times when your path was made clearer or your baggage lighter because of someone who helped along the way. These thoughts came to mind today as President Obama outlined his plan to expand opportunity for boys and young men of color through the My Brother’s Keeper initiative and a new federal task force on which I am honored to serve.
After her seventh-grade teacher explained the connection between service and the Peace Corps, a 12-year-old Laura Glaub promised to factor service into her own life. Years later, she pursued opportunities that would support her dream of becoming a social worker. A quick online search led her to Partners for After School Success, a multi-site AmeriCorps program that targets middle and high school students.
Iowa can add another “first-in-the-nation” jewel to its crown with today’s announcement by Governor Terry Branstad of the creation of the Governor’s Council on National Service in Iowa.
In the months leading up to her college graduation, Diana Martin sketched a mental blueprint for her future. Her past volunteer work as a summer camp assistant, tutor, and soccer coach all added up to one thing—educating children must be part of that future. And the AmeriCorps program, Diana decided, would help her reach that goal.
Whenever the talk begins about our nation making quality education a priority, it’s no surprise that some may be cynical. After all, we have too many children entering school unprepared, too many falling behind early, and too many dropping out before graduation. Why can’t we change this story? The truth is, we can – and we are.
AmeriCorps member Margaret Montague is used to having a steady stream of students come to see her for college advice in her office at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA, just outside the nation's capital.
With another winter storm barreling across the Northern United States, we wanted to share some tips from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) site that could come in handy for those in the path of the storm. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) is partnering with FEMA to lead the America’s PrepareAthon! campaign to increase emergency preparedness across the nation.
Can a simple mentoring relationship rescue a life in peril? In a world with few easy solutions, there are innumerable stories -- and a new survey -- that demonstrate this could be possible. Let's start with one of these stories.
Tonight millions of Americans will watch President Obama deliver his fifth State of the Union Address.  One AmeriCorps alum will have a choice seat for all the action. Kathy Hollowell-Makle, who served for two years as an AmeriCorps member with Teach For America, will be a special guest of First Lady Michelle Obama.
“I am a guidance counselor and a teacher, den mother, referee, and confidant. I am a newspaper reporter, editor, and printer. I am a public relations man, chauffer, and pawn shop operator. I am also a scribe, medic, friend, buddy, and informer. I’m the low man on the totem pole, but the buck stops with me. I’m the middle man between Corpsman and staff, between staff and staff, and between Corpsmen and Corpsmen.” I wrote that paragraph almost 50 years ago, along with William “Tex” Arnold and Ed Nungesser, after my assignment to the nation’s first Job Corps Center, Camp Catoctin, located in the piney woods just up the hill from the Presidential Retreat at Camp David, in a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp in rural western Maryland.
As Christina Bodison navigated a demanding course load at Howard University, the former biology major actively searched for ways to be of service to others. First, she mentored high school students during an alternative spring break program in Detroit. Then, she researched HIV, AIDS, and the socioeconomic factors that bar access to health care. All of this compelled Christina to join the AmeriCorps VISTA program and the fight against poverty.
As AmeriCorps celebrates its 20th anniversary, it’s exciting to reflect on what the authors of the National Community Service Trust Act imagined for the power of national service. They believed that service should be an innovative public-private partnership, and Minnesota Reading Corps is bringing that vision to life.
During this holiday season, we are reminded of a timeless lesson: it is better to give than receive, more blessed to serve than be served. And our new Volunteering and Civic Life in America report shows that Americans embrace this idea -- not only during the holidays, but all year long.
The recent death of Nelson Mandela affected many who were touched by his inspirational life story, and his fight as a political prisoner to create a free and democratic South Africa. City Year, an AmeriCorps grantee, paid tribute to Mandela in a message from its CEO and co-founder, Michael Brown.


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