Reflections on disaster deployment: every disaster is different

By Erin Bjork, AmeriCorps member, Young Adult Program 2017-18 – 1/29/2019

Conservation Corps MN & IA members with Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) members on their last morning.

Conservation Corps MN & IA members with Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) members on their last morning.

The one constant in disaster response is that every disaster is different. All AmeriCorps Disaster Response Teams (A-DRTs) operate under the same systems of command and organization, but the scope of work, the people who make up the team, and the communities where we work all contribute to making a completely new experience every time. I tried to keep this in mind preparing to leave for my second deployment to North Carolina in mid-December 2018 but couldn’t help thinking about the experiences I had in Puerto Rico, in response to Hurricane Maria.

My first disaster deployment sent me to Puerto Rico in the fall of 2017, just a month after Maria had devastated the island. I hadn’t been initially slotted to be a part of the response team from Minnesota, but while attending a reception of members returning from an A-DRT in Texas, my supervisors found out that I speak Spanish and asked if I would be ready to leave for Puerto Rico within the week. When we arrived on the island, utilities were out over much of the island and the hillsides were brown where evergreen tress had been stripped of their leaves and many had fallen. Though roads had been cleared and most trees had been removed from power lines, hundreds of trees remained on homes. Our teams assessed damaged homes and cleared trees so we could help homeowners sign up for roof repair and roof tarp installation. While the island still had a long way to go when we left just after Thanksgiving 2017, some of the island now had electricity, and once-brown hillsides were resurging with leaves and bright blooms.

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Back to 2018: our Conservation Corps MN & IA team left for North Carolina in December after our end-of-year celebrations. After the designated time for community and closure had ended for the week, we packed our bags and got back into the trucks to which we had already said goodbye, launching back into work and into forming community again. Seven of us built a new crew and new dynamic, forming bonds with people from Washington, Utah, North Carolina, and all over the country. For me, this was an emotional time; not only as an opportunity to help in communities still deeply affected by Hurricane Florence three months after it made landfall, but also as a capstone on my two years with Conservation Corps, an organization that has come to feel like home.

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It’s hard to quickly summarize our month in North Carolina, or any disaster response experience (every disaster is different!). We had the opportunity to contribute our physical labor in removing damaged building materials, installing roof tarps, scraping glue and mold from homes, and spraying mold-suppressing chemicals; to offer emotional support to the community and get to know their neighborhoods months after Florence devastated the area; and to make deep connections with crews from other AmeriCorps programs who share our same values. I personally had the chance to work with the Incident Command team in a planning and operations capacity supporting our field teams and working on our data and reporting systems. While it may not seem exciting to work with spreadsheets all day, I thoroughly enjoyed working to clarify our reporting systems and making sure all accomplishments since October 2018 were properly documented.

I’m incredibly proud of my crew and their hard work and dedication—looking out at the world at-large can be scary and uncertain, but these folks have energized me with their care, love, and belief in the value of hard work. It was beautiful to be a part of a small but strong coalition in North Carolina dedicated simply to doing good, placing all our weight on supporting recovery, community, and making a difference. While I am still working out how to think about this single month in the grand scheme, I am immensely grateful for the experience and the passion of those who have worked alongside me—and for the Corps experience overall. I don’t know exactly where I’m going next, but Conservation Corps, and especially the individuals I have met and served with over the last two years, have changed my outlook and my life for the better.

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The end of a good year

By Kelsey Brock, Southern District, Mankato Crew - 12/6/2018

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It’s hard to believe that our term is already coming to an end, but somehow it is. It has been a year full of amazing views, challenging but rewarding work, and some really good connections. There have been a lot of successes, along with some difficulties and tough days (where humor comes in handy). The number of positive things I can take away from the experience are too many to mention, but the thing I will take away most is the relationships I’ve built with other crew members. It’s such a valuable skill to learn how to work as part of a team, and I got really lucky with my crew, who I’ve come to learn a lot about over the last ten months.

First, there’s our crew leader, Micheal (first from left). Superpower: able to take (and give) a joke well. Weakness: prone to ripping his pants.

Next, Melissa (second from left). Superpower: tree climbing. Weakness: likes pineapple pizza.

Followed by Kayla (third from left). Superpower: making you laugh until you cry/getting you to see the humor in every situation. Weakness: she has none.

And last but not least, Gabe (fourth from left). Superpower: being the true muscle of our crew. Weakness: an unhealthy hot Cheetos obsession.

The crew is one of the biggest parts of the experience as a Corps member, I’m with these people more than I’m with family or friends and I’ve loved working with every one of them. You’re all beautiful human beings and I hope you get all the opportunities you’re seeking.

Lastly, I’d like to thank all the animals we’ve met during the year. We’ve had the unexpected surprise of meeting many private owner’s pets, stray cats, and even the occasional sleeping fawn. You were my favorite part.

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The Humanity In-Between

By Caroline Fazzio, Individual Placement Program – 12/3/2018

If working with the Corps has taught me one universal lesson, it’s that I will not always agree with my coworkers. Invariably there is disagreement on some level, whether it be as simple as a personality variance, or as complex as opposing core beliefs. Either way, the result is the same—I must work with this person, often every day, regardless. Typically all is fine, until that inevitable day when something comes up in conversation—a current event, a political stance, a religious belief, even a backhand comment—and suddenly those differences are triggered.

I guarantee I’m not the only one who’s ever faced this scenario.

Often in our work places, we play polite until our differences begin butting heads. Then, we usually decide to merely tolerate our coworkers out of necessity, or to vehemently avoid any subject that may underscore our differences. Neither is particularly healthy.

When we choose to simply tolerate someone, our attitude toward them can quickly shift. We begin to subconsciously, or even consciously, respect them less, disregard their ideas, or zone-in on their faults and forget their strengths. There is a fine line between a tolerating workplace and an unwelcoming one.

Avoiding subjects that highlight fundamental differences doesn’t always work either. It’s exhausting constantly trying to predict and avoid any potential conflict. I have found that even the smallest, seemingly insignificant comment from a coworker can trigger me. Unintentional as it may be, it reminds me of the differences that exist between myself and those I am surrounded by every day.

So how do we find success and joy in a job and a world where we may disagree with those with whom we constantly interact? I have pondered this dilemma since I started my position in January and found myself surrounded by a cohort of coworkers with whom I sometimes disagree. Now, ten months later, I still do not have an answer, nor do I believe that anyone is capable of getting along with others, hiccup-free, all the time.

So why do I bring this issue up?—because we cannot afford to be afraid of it. We cannot dismiss it, nor can we hope for a positive outcome if we are willing to settle for tolerance or avoidance. Now more than ever, we must not run away from the issue of how to work with and connect with someone fundamentally different from us.

I don’t have the solution, just what I have learned throughout my life, and especially the past two years as a Corpsmember. We cannot avoid the inevitable differences that will arise between us, but we can choose to consider each other’s humanity above our core differences. We can elect to recognize our divisions and the issues they produce, and be open to letting those differences inspire us and teach us.

Who knows, that person who bugs you the most may just be the source of your greatest growth.

A Year in Photos

By Caroline Fazzio, Individual Placement Program – 11/29/2018

As my term enters its final weeks, I reflect on the past eleven months and realize it’s impossible to sum them up in a mere 600 words. The people, places, and moments I have experienced cannot be defined within my meager vernacular. So for this final post I simply offer photos capturing a small handful of those moments.

January

Crystal Springs Scientific & Natural Area (SNA). A day of descending slippery slopes to find a quintessential winter waterfall.

Crystal Springs Scientific & Natural Area (SNA). A day of descending slippery slopes to find a quintessential winter waterfall.

February

Grasses weathering the cold of Minnesota at Lost Valley Prairie SNA. All the DNR IPs got a tour of this wintry wonderland.

Grasses weathering the cold of Minnesota at Lost Valley Prairie SNA. All the DNR IPs got a tour of this wintry wonderland.

March*

Prepping for field season starts early. Plant ID training (like the one set-up in the picture above) helps both DNR staff and partners prepare for the upcoming months of surveying.

Prepping for field season starts early. Plant ID training (like the one set-up in the picture above) helps both DNR staff and partners prepare for the upcoming months of surveying.

April*

As soon as ice-off, specialists are in the field armed with throw rakes and ready for surveying.

As soon as ice-off, specialists are in the field armed with throw rakes and ready for surveying.

May

Many adventures were had at Tettegouche State Park during the first CCMI retreat of the year. Crazy hikes, roaring waterfalls, and steep gulches were all conquered.

Many adventures were had at Tettegouche State Park during the first CCMI retreat of the year. Crazy hikes, roaring waterfalls, and steep gulches were all conquered.

June*

When the water temperatures rose, the SCUBA gear came out. Dive surveys for zebra mussels started early and continued through the entire field season.

When the water temperatures rose, the SCUBA gear came out. Dive surveys for zebra mussels started early and continued through the entire field season.

July

Making the most of the long days at the headwaters of the Mississippi in Itasca State Park.

Making the most of the long days at the headwaters of the Mississippi in Itasca State Park.

August*

More diving, more water, and more invasive species field adventures as summer hit the homestretch.

More diving, more water, and more invasive species field adventures as summer hit the homestretch.

September*

Starry stonewort was the topic of the summer’s end with multiple hand-pulling events (like the one pictured above) and a new infestation survey.

Starry stonewort was the topic of the summer’s end with multiple hand-pulling events (like the one pictured above) and a new infestation survey.

October

October was the month of conferences with multiple program meetings and the internationally-attended Upper Midwest Invasive Species Conference.

October was the month of conferences with multiple program meetings and the internationally-attended Upper Midwest Invasive Species Conference.

November

Despite the dropping temperatures, dropping leaves, and dropping daylight hours, it’s still a great time to get outside and enjoy the crisp autumn air.

Despite the dropping temperatures, dropping leaves, and dropping daylight hours, it’s still a great time to get outside and enjoy the crisp autumn air.

December

A time for reflection and quiet contemplation with the gentle repose of the wilderness. Stop, breathe, take in the moment, and look forward with joy to the coming of the next season.

A time for reflection and quiet contemplation with the gentle repose of the wilderness. Stop, breathe, take in the moment, and look forward with joy to the coming of the next season.

*Photos courtesy of the MN DNR.