AmeriCorps and Disaster Services

AmeriCorps is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year by highlighting some areas of success.  During the month of August, the Corporation for National and Community Service is recognizing the work done in disaster services.  These services range from mitigation projects pre-disaster to managing shelter operations post-disaster.  No matter the task, communities across the country have benefited from the work provided by AmeriCorps members over the past twenty years.

One of the major players in disaster services, both in Montana and nationwide, is the Montana Conservation Corps. The program has played a key role in disaster training, mitigation, response and recovery.  We recently posed some questions to Program Director, Lee Gault, in regards to their role before, during and after disasters.

How does disaster response complement the mission of the Montana Conservation Corps and what you already do?

The Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) is about service, national service and local service. We want to be a community resource as well as a natural resource.  When our members are able to serve people in need directly, it makes their term of national service much more tangible. Our experience has been that it also gives our members more of an opportunity to be leaders and citizens engaged in something larger than themselves. They are participating in a great service effort, something that will stay with them the rest of their lives.

What types of services has MCC provided during disasters?

Sandy relief

MCC members helping individuals affected by Hurricane Sandy

We have provided a variety of services over the years. For the flood in Lima, CO,  we were filling sandbags and doing what is called ‘mucking and gutting.’ For the hurricanes in Florida, we were mostly installing blue tarps on damaged roofs but we also did a good bit of debris and hazard tree removal due to our chainsaw skills.  At Hurricane Katrina, we were serving as warehouse and inventory managers as well as doing debris removal and volunteer management.  For Hurricane Sandy, we were staffing shelters all over the city and overseeing a Respite Center.

What disasters have MCC crews responded to in the past?

In the early days, we sent crews to a flood in Lima, MT. More recently, we responded to the 2004 Florida hurricanes, 2005 Hurricanes Katrina & Rita, in 2012 we sent crews to New York City in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and just the spring we had our members working on debris clean-up for the avalanche that struck Missoula. We have also worked on several local floods, worked in wildfire camps and helped monitor the clean-up of many local wildfires.

What do you think service members have gained through disaster response efforts? What have communities gained?

Members have gained a sense of themselves as vital service providers. They see the chaos that goes with most natural disasters and they invariably step into leadership roles. They are part of historic events. But most importantly, I think they gain a greater sense of compassion for their fellow man; they see other people suffering and their first response is to ask how they can help.

Missoula avalanche mcc

MCC crews help after the Missoula avalance in 2014

Communities begin to see AmeriCorps members as extremely important resources. They see young people showing up, wanting to serve. They see the almost unlimited capacity and willingness of these young folks to help. They also benefit from the services members provide; trees are cleared, roofs are patched, debris is removed, volunteers are organized and people who have lost their homes have a safe place to spend the night.

For more information about AmeriCorps, the Montana Conservation Corps, and disaster services, visit these links:

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