For Tina Kiehn, an AmeriCorps NCCC member in Aurora, IL, the morning of September 11, 2001, started out as a day like any other. She was at her service site, helping a class of first graders adjust to the new school year. With summer just behind them, Kiehn and her team expected a normal daily schedule: classes, recess, homework help.
Then everything changed. Kiehn and her team had almost no time to absorb the shock of the day's events before they were called to serve at Ground Zero in New York City. Unsure what to expect, they were placed near the heart of the disaster, working on Pier 94.
When they arrived, they could smell and taste the smoke from the collapsed buildings. They felt the buzz of somber energy of the disaster workers who were there to help. And very soon, they were helping victims in an intimate and meaningful way.
Kiehn was assigned to provide resources on mental health counseling, helping connect survivors and the family members of the deceased with available services. Every day, she walked through metal detectors to sit down with her clients, which could take anywhere from 30 minutes to four hours per person. She often worked 12-14 hour days, and on particularly long shifts, she would crawl under the table to nap during her breaks.
Each client had a unique perspective and their own particular needs. Many didn't know how they were going to pay their bills. Others didn't know how to tell their children what exactly happened that day. Kiehn responded to their stories, day in and day out, for a month straight.
Her service term inevitably ended. But though her time with AmeriCorps was up, the experience had given her the drive and skills to help people in need. After her AmeriCorps NCCC graduation, Kiehn returned to Pier 94 to continue to serve.
And she's still serving others today. Her year with AmeriCorps inspired her to pursue a career in nonprofit management; she now works at Habitat for Humanity International in Charlotte, NC. Her experience in disaster zones gave her a valuable set of skills – Kiehn was appointed Habitat's operations coordinator during the Haiti earthquake response.
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