Today was amazing. In remembrance of 9/11, the Buffalo Unit went to visit the veterans on the VA Medical Center where we live to thank them for their service.

We also made some really cute cards to take.

At first, I was worried. Many times when I speak to the veterans on campus, they don’t respond. I felt like they were going to be annoyed with us coming into their rooms wanting to talk. I was really nervous going in.

Fortunately, we had a 30 minute briefing on what to say, what not to say, and some background on some of the veterans.

Today ended up being one of the best days here on campus. There wasn’t one veteran who didn’t seem to enjoy having visitors. One man that really made an impact on me was a man named Ward. I talked to him for a really long time. He was a POW at age 18 in Germany. He had so many interesting stories about war, his family, and his childhood. He asked about my life and work in AmeriCorps. He also gave me some boy advice. Haha. He was very sweet. I am definitely going back to see him when we get back from this next Round.

You can tell that the veterans don’t get visitors that often. One of the men that worked there said they would love it if we came back. There was another man named Bill who was hilarious. He played his harmonica and sang songs for us. He was also searching for a girlfriend. It was pretty funny.

We were only there for two hours but for such a short amount of time I feel it made some of their days. Something as simple as thanking them for their service brightened their faces.

Even almost 8 months into this program it still amazes me that giving so little can mean so much. It makes me excited thinking about what else I can do. My future is getting clearer by the day. I definitely want to follow my passion for public service.

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Today we worked in Livingstonville with the Southern Valley Recovery Group, the work that our project manager, Skeeter, set up. Our supervisor was Jimmy, a local man who helps with the food pantry every Friday, also one of Skeeter’s really good friends. I enjoyed working with him. When Skeeter and him get together it’s just like two little boys bickering. It’s hilarious.

Today we demoed a trailer that had tremendous damage from the flood. We took out everything except the exterior of the house and the supporting structure in the middle. It was pretty intense, kicking down wooden beams, breaking down cabinets, pulling out the bathtub and toilet.

One of the homeowners that was letting us use their bathroom said that FEMA has helped them out tremendously. They got his family into an apartment nearby and helped renovate their house that had 3 feet of water in it.

I can’t even imagine how many consumers FEMA is dealing with after a major disaster like Irene. It has to be very hard keeping track of it all.

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Murphy’s Law

While he was prepping me to step into his shoes while he took off for a week, I told my team leader, Taft, I was afraid something will go wrong. He said, “Something will go wrong.” He meant it.

For the past three days we have been working for NY CARE, which is the donation warehouse. The first day, we moved furniture (and everything else you could imagine) from the building they had rented to temporarily drop off donations to the actual warehouse. The next two days we spent sorting through, folding, and organizing linens.

It’s been a little monotonous. But we were really looking forward to our next job- working a booth for CARE at the a fair in the tiny town of Cobleskill on Friday, Saturday, and Monday.

Well… it fell through. They cancelled it. Nor will the CARE volunteers be working in the warehouse. That means we will be almost 18 hours short of our hours for this week and 9 next week. That is NOT ACCEPTABLE.

My job as acting team leader is to fix this…. even if it’s just one day’s notice.

My first instinct was to call Taft, who definitely would not have minded, but no. I was going to figure this one out on my own. He’s on vacation and shouldn’t be bothered.

I could also call Robin, the programs director for NCCC, but that was going to look really bad on CARE and I didn’t want that. So I called our site supervisor from last week, Nathan. No answer. Then I called our FEMA sponsor, John. No answer.  Our housing sponsor, Skeeter, said he would always have work for us. So I called him. No answer.

Oh man, I was getting tense at this point. These disaster recovery guys are busy people and almost never answer their phones. I left messages with Nathan and John and crossed my fingers at least one of them would call back. I just kept the thought in the back of my mind that Skeeter “would always have work for us.” And if nothing else, as a last case scenario, we could always deep clean and organize the food pantry in the church we are staying in.

Finally, just before the end of the day, Nathan called back and said he definitely had work for us on Friday and Monday in Rotterdam Junction. Whew!

And then John also got in touch with me to say he would call Nathan to see if he had work. But when he found out I’d already talked to Nathan, he said he was impressed I had already set it up!

Then Skeeter stopped by the church tonight to have dinner with us and said he has some work for us to do on Saturday with the Southern Valley Recovery Group. Yay!

So it all worked out! Well, so far.

It is barely day two at acting TL though. We’ll see what else is in store for the rest of the week. I’m a bit nervous.

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New experiences

Each week during this round, we are working in a different area. Last week we worked in Rotterdam Junction.

This week we are working for New York Care, which is a huge donation warehouse for flood survivors to get anything from clothes to furniture to toys for their children. It is honestly one of the biggest open buildings I have ever seen!

Last night, Grace, Greg, and I went down to the waterfalls to hangout. It was a lot of fun. We found out that we are actually allowed to get in now. NCCC rules say that you cannot swim without a lifeguard, but these waterfalls aren’t very deep so technically we are allowed to wade as long as two other people are with you. The water is so refreshing.

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Alright, so I just had my first one-on-one of the round with our team leader, Taft. It went really well. Things this round have been going so much better than the last two rounds, like complete opposites. The team is a lot closer now, and we got a great project. Taft said that I have done an amazing job as assistant team leader, that I have done so much more to step up and take control than other ATLs. He said that I am a good leader because people actually listen to what I have to say.

Our team mentor, Carlyn, referred to me as “the quiet storm,” meaning that when she sees me, I’m always quiet but whenever I open my mouth she stops everything to listen because she knows it’s going to be something she wants to hear. Carlyn is an amazing person, so coming from her is such a compliment. She’s an awesome mentor. She wrote me a letter last round that really made me happy. She told me that I am a strong leader and people follow me, so be aware that somebody is always watching and looking up to me.

Taft keeps talking to me about applying to be a team leader next year. I’ve put a lot of thought into it, but I just don’t know if I’m ready. Being a team leader is a HUGE responsibility. It’s not like most jobs where you know what you’re going to be doing and have a basic job description. No. Anything can happen. There is just so much that is unknown. What will my team be like? What kind of work will I be assigned to? What happens when I have no idea what to do?

I know it would be a great experience and in the end, it would be so rewarding. It’s just getting there that worries me. I guess that’s the case for anything. The harder it was to achieve, the more rewarding it is.

Taft is leaving in two days for a week and I’m in charge. I’m really nervous about something going wrong. He assured me today that something will. I just hope that I don’t completely mess something up. I’m afraid that people are going to think that it’s a free for all because Taft is gone. It’s not going to be. If I let that happen, that’s when things go wrong, when people don’t follow the rules. So, I’ve just got to stand my ground, start off strong, and know that I’m not taking this job lightly. I’m a little excited because this will give me more of a team leader feel so I will really know if I want to apply for next year.

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Who to believe?

Our home for 6 weeks.

We had lunch with some of the Habitat for Humanity volunteers today at the church that we report to in the morning. They are my absolute favorite. They are hilarious, mostly a bunch of retired men with an old sense of humor. I met one of them who said his wife died a couple years ago and needed something to pass the time, so decided it was time to serve. He didn’t know anything about carpentry, but decided to give it a shot and is now pretty much a professional.

Tonight, we went to a meeting with the community members of Waterford and FEMA. We got there a little late, so I was a bit confused with what was going on, but from what I got from it was that the disaster survivors are unhappy with their caseworkers, because they kind of just vanished.

I’ve heard stories like this about Hurricane Katrina too. I just don’t know what to believe.

Some people complain that there are people who have a negative outlook on the government, and who when don’t get everything just handed to them, get angry.

But then also, I hear how FEMA helped families in their time of need. My goal for the round is to figure out where I stand on FEMA. So far by working with them, I think they do a large number of good.

Well, if I fall asleep now, I will get 7 hours of sleep. I’m gonna hit the sack.

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Stop. Look. Listen.

Day 3 of our project.

We left the housing at 7:30am and got back around 10pm.  I guess many of the days doing disaster relief are going to look like this. Today, we started moving part of the pile of debris to the huge dumpster by the house we tore down on the first day. The pile was over the first floor window and halfway to the second floor window. We didn’t finish moving the whole pile because the dumpster was full to the brim.

After that, my team, which was Greg, Kelly, and Deb, went to a log house in Patersonville. We cleaned the inside log walls with a wood cleaning solution to get any dirt or mold out. It was a long process. First, we soaked the walls with water using sponges. Then, we applied the solution with a sponge and scrubbed it with a brush from floor to ceiling. The solution had to sit on there for ten minutes before we rinsed it with clean water.

The owner of the house was so nice. As our sponsor from FEMA said, “Everybody is going to have their story about the hurricane.”

With each story, I feel more and more grateful for everything I have.

The homeowner of the log house said,

“If you had given me a bulldozer during the first thirty days, I would have taken out both of my houses. I had no resources and was flat broke, but with each and every person that came to help, it gave me more hope to rebuild my life.”

He also apologized in advance if he preached to us as all because he’s a preacher. Another thing he said that really hit me was:

“Stop. Look. Listen. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Look around you and pick out everything that’s good in the situation and listen to God. There is wisdom in every event that occurs in your life. Wisdom is something you can’t learn in college but it comes with time and experiences.”

He and his wife built their house on their own in the 70’s. It took them three years to finish, but they did it. I cannot imagine losing almost everything like that.

This is just one of the millions of people’s stories that are currently affected by disaster. It’s so heartbreaking. I love hearing the positive ones. It makes you realize what really matters. Material things don’t, they can all be gone in a heartbeat. It’s about relationships, family, and doing good things in the world.

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