A few years ago, Tara Sloane couldn’t imagine picking up a chainsaw. This fall she spent seven weeks mucking and gutting houses and managing volunteers as a member of the Conservation Corps’ Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.
After serving as 2012 Three Rivers field crew member, Sloane stepped into leadership roles she never imagined with behind-the-scenes deployment preparations, financial management and leading cleanup crews ― even though she felt like a novice during her year in the Corps.
“Coming out here, I didn’t even know how a house was constructed or even really where the wires were,” Tara said. "After a week out here, I was leading crews, making sure all the crew members were safe, managing the emotions of the devastated homeowners and keeping their trust in knowing that I would not ruin their home.”
Sloane originally heard about the Corps from a couch surfer friend. “It sounded like an incredible program but definitely not one for me because chainsaws really weren’t something I could see myself getting into,” Sloane said.
After traveling in Eastern Europe where she worked on organic farms, Sloane discovered she liked working outside, getting her hands dirty and being exhausted at the end of a work day. When she moved back to the U.S she submitted her application for a Conservation Corps field crew position.
Early in her Corps term, Sloane didn’t have much confidence and didn't see herself as a leader. Whengiven the opportunity to join the Hurricane Sandy relief response, Sloane didn’t know what to expect. Corps members were told they would work mainly in shelters, but were soon running Team Rubicon’s cleanup operation and training and managing other AmeriCorps volunteers in the Rockaway neighborhood. Men and veterans who had experience working on houses came back again and again to volunteer on her crew.
The work touched Sloane’s life in ways she never thought possible. Her crew worked on the house of Vilmarie and Jose, which had sustained incredible damages. While corps members gutted the house, Sloane helped Vilmarie wash, hang and dry an entire garbage bag of family photos.
Sloane got to know the family through the pictures and stories Vilmarie told her in Spanish. “I felt so connected to them because I was literally hanging photos of her entire life, from holidays to weddings to vacations,” Sloane said.
When the gutting work was done and all the pictures were saved, Jose and Vilmarie cried, hugged and said the crew always had a home there in the Rockaways.
During her second deployment, Sloane was reunited with Jose and Vilmarie while canvassing for FEMA. They welcomed her with open arms, showed her their nearly completed house and reminded her she was always welcome in their home.
Sloane knows her success in the relief effort came from the basic skills she learned during her time in the Corps. As a crew member she was familiar with working long hours, knowing how to be safe with tools and working with different types of people.
“I loved AmeriCorps… I saw so much growth in myself,” Sloane said. “This opportunity gave me a lot of resume builders and I am excited to see how this will translate into my other experiences.”