2018 Legacy Achievement Award Winner: Reginald "Flip" Hagood - Student Conservation Association (SCA)

The Corps Network’s Corps Legacy Achievement Award recognizes leaders with approximately 20 or more years of contribution to the Corps movement, who have served in a senior leadership position (CEO, Executive Director, Board Member, Vice President) for a Corps or multiple corps, and who have made a significant contribution to the movement (e.g. founded a Corps, brought a Corps to scale, served for approximately 15+ years as Executive Director/CEO of a Corps, served a key role as a national board member, made a significant national contribution through developing a nationwide project, etc.). Learn more.


Reginald “Flip” Hagood has many years of service under his belt. From serving his country as a Marine in Vietnam, to being a champion of the outdoors and youth programs as Senior Vice President of The Student Conservation Association (SCA), Flip goes above and beyond in serving his community.

As a young man, Flip left military service to start a law enforcement career with the National Park Service (NPS) Park Police. He later served as a Park Ranger, then moved into designing and delivering training. In 1994, after serving over 25 years with the park service, Flip retired as the Chief of the Employee Development Division.

Before leaving the park service, Flip began serving with SCA as a council and board member. His retirement from NPS was designed so that he could transition to a position as Deputy Program Director of SCA's Conservation Career Development Program (CCDP). Flip soon became Program Director, then Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives, and eventually had a long run in several program and partnership arenas as SCA’s Senior Vice President.

During his service with SCA, Flip not only led the organization’s commitment to diversify the conservation movement, but served as an industry leader as well, having served on the boards of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and the Institute of Conservation Leadership. He has also been a member of The Wilderness Society’s Governing Council since 2001 (where he chaired the Diversity Committee).

During his time at SCA, Flip impacted and supported thousands of high school students, college interns and staff seeking to serve the environment. He was at the forefront of developing urban-based programs for youth and young adults interested in conservation careers. Flip was essential in the creation of SCA’s Washington DC Urban Community program. This was a pioneer program focused on engaging local DC youth in conservation service. The program has grown from its inception almost 40 years ago to more than 15 urban centers that reach almost 1,000 youth each year.

Flip’s influence and impact has extended far beyond SCA into all aspects of the environmental movement, including nonprofits, government service and even the corporate world. He is a respected advisor in the advancement of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within the conservation workforce. Since his retirement three years ago, he is still mentoring many students and professionals, guiding their careers and amplifying their impact. His voice has been highly influential in helping organizations like NOLS and The Wilderness Society better understand their obligation to be more inclusive as they deliver their missions.

2018 Project of the Year: Southwest Conservation Corps and Montana Conservation Corps - Wyoming Women's Fire Corps

At The Corps Network’s annual National Conference in Washington, DC, we celebrate the important service Corps provide to communities and young people across the country by honoring Corps who have taken on especially noteworthy endeavors within the past year. Projects of the Year are innovative and show a Corps’ ability to work with partner organizations to give Corpsmembers a positive experience and provide the community with meaningful improvements. Learn more


The Wyoming Women’s Fire Corps (WWFC) is a pilot program that ran August through early November of 2017. Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC), Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) joined together in this collaborative effort. 

SCC and MCC each contributed a crew of six female Corpsmembers and two female Crew Leaders to work with the BLM in Wyoming. The goal was to give these 16 women the confidence, technical skills, and leadership abilities to pursue careers in wildland firefighting. The women completed training and were certified in S130/190 wildland fire fighting and S212 saw operation. The scope of work for the program included fire mitigation and prescribed burns, as well as various chainsaw projects in locations throughout Wyoming. Additionally, both WWFC crews had the opportunity to gain valuable hands-on experience while dispatched on a 14-day assignment to support the massive firefighting efforts in California.

The WWFC is a perfect example of innovation in the Corps Movement. It is a unique opportunity to develop collaborative solutions to several needs. First, this program helps address the huge gender disparity in wildland firefighting. Only 11 percent of permanent wildland firefighting jobs in the U.S. Forest Service are held by women. BLM faces similar statistics.

Second, the WWFC plays a role in addressing resource management concerns. Wyoming has large tracts of land that are potential habitat for the endangered sage grouse, but these areas need to be restored through the removal of encroaching conifers. An effort of this kind requires chainsaw work with a hand crew; perfect saw and physical training for a future wildland firefighter.

The WWFC is potentially the first all-women’s fire crew within the Conservation Corps movement. Additionally, this was the first time either SCC or MCC operated an all-female crew with a set purpose. The uniqueness of this program helped bring in far more applicants than anticipated; within just a two-week window, both Corps received three applicants for every slot.

The first WWFC cohort just closed their season. They report having had an incredible, life-changing experience. Each Corpsmember was an AmeriCorps member, earning a living allowance and finishing with a Segal Education Award. With only one exception, all SCC and MCC members are interested in applying for fire jobs next season; a testament to the empowering nature of this program.

At this point, it’s too early for SCC and MCC to report on how many WWFC participants became employed in wildland firefighting. However, they have already seen other positive effects of the program; SCC has been contacted by BLM and other organizations that are interested in hiring the Corpsmembers and learning more about replicating the initiative in other parts of the country. BLM and both Corps have deemed the WWFC highly successful and are working to repeat the program in 2019.

In the months to come, the two Corps will team-up to develop solutions for challenges discovered in the first year of operation. One of the key factors in the success of this pilot was the critical collaborative effort from staff at SCC, MCC, and the BLM. Several large conference calls took place to establish expectations, logistics and needs of all parties involved.

Both SCC and MCC have been strengthened in many ways because of the WWFC. Each Corps has developed relationships with communities in Wyoming and with the BLM of Wyoming. Additionally, their crews have increased their capacity to respond to wildland fires, complete prescribed burns, and tackle a backlog of habitat improvement projects. Most importantly, however, both Corps have increased diversity and are excited to play a role in opening-up an opportunity for women who are interested in fire, yet unsure how to get a start in such a male-dominated field. This project has developed into a stepping stone for this specific demographic.

As one Corpsmember said of the WWFC: “For women who are thinking ‘maybe I can’t do this,’ you totally can. You just have to have the determination and the willingness to put in a lot of hard work and sweat.” 

2018 Project of the Year: Vermont Youth Conservation Corps - Health Care Share Program

At The Corps Network’s annual National Conference in Washington, DC, we celebrate the important service Corps provide to communities and young people across the country by honoring Corps who have taken on especially noteworthy endeavors within the past year. Projects of the Year are innovative and show a Corps’ ability to work with partner organizations to give Corpsmembers a positive experience and provide the community with meaningful improvements. Learn more


The Health Care Share program of the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) recruits young adults to serve outdoors, in small teams, on tangible projects that benefit Vermont communities. Through service and meaningful employment, young adults gain a profound sense of agency and an understanding of what it means to serve neighbors in need.

With partial support from AmeriCorps, VYCC Farm Crews grow fresh, local, organic food from March through November. This food is then packaged in weekly and/or monthly shares (much like CSA – Community Supported Agriculture) and delivered to hospitals, medical centers, and community clinics. Medical centers, in turn, identify patients and employees who have distinct needs (food insecurity, diabetes, heart conditions, etc.) and would thus benefit from the program. Health Care Share recipients receive shares for six months of the year, as do VYCC Corpsmembers. Additionally, Corpsmembers receive extensive nutrition education and undergo VYCC’s Food and Finance course. 

In 2017, the Health Care Shares initiative engaged 88 Corpsmembers and Crew Leaders. Seventy-two Corpsmembers benefited from the Food and Finance curriculum, and 72 Corpsmembers and their families received a Health Care Share. This is of particular importance as most Corpsmembers come from low-income households.

Throughout the year, Health Care Share Corpsmembers completed an anticipated 50 weeks of service, totaling approximately 10,800 service hours. Additionally, 700 volunteers contributed 2,800 service hours for an estimated financial value of $16,900. By year’s end, roughly 140,000 pounds of food will have been distributed to 500 families, benefitting approximately 1,700 individuals. In addition to the Farm at VYCC, 13 partner farms benefitted greatly from labor provided by VYCC’s Farm Crews. VYCC Farm Crews are, increasingly seen as a valued, nimble, and affordable labor source for farmers during critical moments of the growing and harvesting season.

While the Farm at VYCC has enrolled Corpsmembers to work on the Health Care Share for five summers, 2017 was marked by innovation in several ways:

  1. Expansion – Historically, all farm production happened on VYCC’s nine-acre diversified vegetable and poultry farm. This past growing season, the Farm program fielded crews in three additional Vermont communities: Richmond, Newport, and Bristol. Expansion allowed VYCC to enroll more young adults and add new partners.
  2. New Partners – At each Health Care Share distribution site, VYCC facilitates the formation and operation of “FOOD” teams - Fundraising, Operations, Organization, and Decision-making. These groups are comprised of community and municipal representatives with a stake in public health, nutrition, food security, and local agriculture, as well as youth advocacy, education, and workforce development. Each community that benefits from the Health Care Share brings new partners to this collaboration. This year saw five partner farms join in Rutland. The Newport Crew worked on a community farm managed by the Vermont Land Trust. Farm crews also gleaned produce on seven additional farms to secure additional produce. Partnering medical centers and communities include UVM, Central Vermont, Rutland Regional, and, new this year, North Country Medical Center in Newport. Lastly, VYCC was thrilled that the Farm now receives AmeriCorps funding directly from the Corporation for National Community Service through the SerVermont state commission.
  3. New Education Outcomes – Piloting the Food and Finance curriculum was a great success. This course teaches Corpsmembers how to stretch a budget and, in doing so, establish healthy dietary habits.

​Because the Health Care Share directly benefits community members, there is a real marketing opportunity. VYCC has raised its public profile in towns hosting Farm Crews and seen an uptick in applications, particularly from women. Farming has become a recruitment strategy as it appears to be quite popular among young adults. Additionally, VYCC’s work in food security has attracted the attention of philanthropists who otherwise would likely not be interested in the Corps.

With pluck and determination, Health Care Shares is replicable. For other Corps interested in this type of program, they offer the following insights:

  • Virtually all hospitals have Community Benefit Funds. In VYCC’s experience, the leaders of many medical institutions have been open to innovation.
  • Because VYCC provides food to hospital patients, they consider this fee-for-service revenue, much like traditional revenues used to build and maintain trails.
  • Farms have significant labor demands for roughly nine months out of the year. As such, there are opportunities for Corps to extend the length of service beyond the summer. For example, modest investments in greenhouses not only extend the growing season, but extend the learning, work and service season.
  • Hiring is key. One needs to find a farmer and educator to help operate the program.

Of primary importance, the Farm at VYCC has increased VYCC’s capacity to offer the Corps experience to youth and young adults. Their ability to enhance learning outcomes is equally strengthened, as are their connections to the community.

2018 Project of the Year: LA Conservation Corps - Wiseburn Walking Path

At The Corps Network’s annual National Conference in Washington, DC, we celebrate the important service Corps provide to communities and young people across the country by honoring Corps who have taken on especially noteworthy endeavors within the past year. Projects of the Year are innovative and show a Corps’ ability to work with partner organizations to give Corpsmembers a positive experience and provide the community with meaningful improvements. Learn more


The Wiseburn Walking Path was designed to confront larger societal concerns around the lack of public outdoor exercise and fitness options within Los Angeles County. The 0.7-mile-long decomposed granite walking path is ADA-Accessible and seeks to improve community health for users of all ages. LA Conservation Corps (LACC) Corpsmembers were the backbone that transformed 3,200 linear feet of essentially unused slope from a regular illegal dumping ground into a valuable community resource.

This project was different than most other LACC) endeavors because the Corps was the general contractor, responsible for every aspect of the project. On most LACC construction projects, the Corps is subcontracted to perform specific activities, such as pouring concrete for sidewalks and curbs, planting trees, installing landscaping, and installing park amenities, such as play equipment and signage. This project, however, involved LACC being responsible for all these activities.

Performing the role as a general contractor involved complex permitting and approval processes. Parts of the project crossed into the City of Hawthorne, requiring meetings with Los Angeles County and City of Hawthorne officials. Additionally, the project abutted the right-of-way of the 405-freeway, which required compliance with California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) design standards. 

The Corps found ways to work with new partners and leverage existing partnerships to find ways to improve project efficiency. The project was a creative collaboration between LACC, the Los Angeles County Regional Park and Open Space District, County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation, the California Natural Resources Agency, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ Office, the California Department of Transportation, the Wiseburn Watch Community Group, and other constituent groups. Together, this multi-agency and community inclusive partnership worked to ensure that community needs and wants were heard, evaluated, prioritized, and incorporated as much as possible.

The gently meandering path is lined with eight pieces of outdoor exercise equipment. It also features five large seating areas, some with custom-designed hopscotch elements, that provide opportunities for play, rest, and community convening. Additionally, the project included the installation of 45 solar-powered pedestrian light poles and 55 security bollards. More than 150 new trees and 2,000 native plants were installed to provide a tranquil backdrop for users. Each amenity and component was carefully selected to provide physical, mental, and community health benefits.

Constructing the Wiseburn Walking Path Project provided significant job training and employment benefits to LACC Corpsmembers, as well as long-lasting benefits to Wiseburn community members. During the roughly 2.5 years of the project, over 80 Corpsmembers performed more than 13,000 service hours. For the core group of Corpsmembers, the skills learned involved using construction equipment, such as bobcats and skip loaders, performing grading and surveying, pouring and finishing concrete, and installing amenities and other infrastructure.  Their on-the-job training offered access to networking opportunities and introduced them to potential career choices. In addition to job training, LACC provided Corpsmembers who lacked a high school diploma the ability to attend classes through a charter school partner.

The project, while complex, is replicable. Similar projects might consider some of these lessons learned: 1) Focus on communication, internally and externally. 2) Set realistic expectations early; over the last two years, LACC regularly attended Wiseburn Watch meetings to not only provide updates, but to ensure that expectations were shared and being met. 3) Don’t assume a project is too big for your Corps. While it is of the utmost importance to work on projects you know you can perform successfully, it is also important to make sure you don’t assume a project is too complex. 4) There is always an opportunity for Corpsmembers to learn. In circumstances when LACC subcontracted other contractors, the Corps often assisted, or at least reviewed the work with Corpsmembers to help expand their knowledge.

Completing the Wiseburn Walking Path has strengthened LACC in many ways. The project increased their capacity to perform large-sale park construction projects; broadened their perspective on which projects they should and shouldn’t take on; and taught them the importance of planning to improve efficiency and effectiveness. The project has helped expand the knowledge, skills, and abilities of Corps staff and Corpsmembers, and has helped refine their approaches to training and mentoring. Finally, the successful completion of the Wiseburn Walking Path Project strengthened LACC’s relationships with a wide array of project partners. LACC is currently working on two projects that are similar to the Wiseburn Walking Path Project and are applying the aforementioned lessons learned.

2018 Project of the Year: California Conservation Corps - Save the Sierras, Tree Mortality Program

At The Corps Network’s annual National Conference in Washington, DC, we celebrate the important service Corps provide to communities and young people across the country by honoring Corps who have taken on especially noteworthy endeavors within the past year. Projects of the Year are innovative and show a Corps’ ability to work with partner organizations to give Corpsmembers a positive experience and provide the community with meaningful improvements. Learn more

*The California Conservation Corps Save the Sierras initiative is being recognized as the first ever 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) Project of the Year. The 21CSC is a national initiative to increase the number of young adults and recent veterans serving on public lands. The 21CSC Project of the Year represents the initiative’s vision to improve and maintain public lands and waters through public-private partnerships and the engagement of young adults in meaningful resource management projects. 


California is currently experiencing an unprecedented environmental disaster in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, home to a unique ecosystem that exists nowhere else.

Unhealthy forests, dramatically affected by California’s drought, were not able to defend themselves against the bark beetle, whose infestations have produced dry trees that are easy fuel for wildfires. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection estimates there are currently millions of dead and dying trees, a majority of which are concentrated in the Sierra Nevada Region. This condition has contributed to California’s wildfire epidemic, in which over 1.1 million acres have burned in 2017 alone.

The Save the Sierras project was established by the California Conservation Corps (CCC) to prevent further environmental devastation and assist underserved communities affected by the crisis. By repairing and restoring forests and natural resources, this project has made a significant impact in stopping the spread of tree mortality.

The project began in January 2017 with fifty Corpsmembers. They were trained and certified in the use of chainsaws, practical safety, flora and fauna identification, First Aid, CPR, and AmeriCorps values.

Armed with chainsaws and gumption, the participants removed thousands of diseased trees to promote a healthier forest. Why cut down trees to save a forest? A lack of management has led to overgrown forests that are dominated by small, sickly trees that compete with healthy trees for water and other resources. The path to a better future is strategic forest management.

Corpsmembers work a revolving schedule of eight 10-hour days in the field, followed by six days off for educational opportunities, volunteering, and rest. This exemplifies the service learning component of the project and its members.

In July through September 2017s, the CCC members cut down over 5,000 dead and dying trees. Before the end of the year, they will have cut down more than 15,000 trees. They have improved firebreaks, cleared trees away from structures, and increased the defensible space around countless byways. During the course of 56 spikes, Corpsmembers served a total of 47,757 hours. Additionally, 10 campgrounds have been restored and are able to be enjoyed by the public.

To make this project possible, the CCC collaborated with multiple public and private community partners, including Southern California Edison, the U.S. Forest Service, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, California Volunteers, local corps, fire councils, cities and counties. The CCC strengthened its relationship with the local California-based Corps and AmeriCorps by recruiting members and sharing this experience with them.

The Save the Sierras Corpsmembers recently attended a career fair constructed especially for them and their experience. They were amazed at the range and number of opportunities available to them after their year of service. Corpsmembers were introduced to jobs with organizations ranging from regional tree service companies, to California State Parks and Southern California Edison. Representatives from these entities presented opportunities to the Corpsmembers that they were already fully qualified for as a direct result of this project.

During their year of training, Corpsmembers had the opportunity to earn their S212 wildland fire chainsaw certification and Faller 3 certification. Multiple Corpsmembers earned their high school diplomas during the project, and several others transferred to a fire crew within the CCC with the hopes of becoming firefighters. Fifteen Corpsmembers signed up for a second term allowing them to complete two years in the project. Save the Sierras combines the innovation of healthy forest management while also providing an environment wherein members can grow personally. 

2018 Corpsmember of the Year: Kiara Alexis, Civicorps


Every year, at The Corps Network’s National Conference in Washington, DC, we honor a select group of exceptional Corpsmembers from our member Service and Conservation Corps. These young men and women have exceeded the expectations of their Corps by exhibiting outstanding leadership skills and demonstrating an earnest commitment to service and civic engagement. The Corpsmembers of the Year are role models; their personal stories and accomplishments are an inspiration to Corpsmembers nationwide. Learn more.


As the lead driver for Civicorps’ Recycling Team, Kiara Alexis has worked hard to achieve the goals she had coming into the Corps.

Kiara first applied to the Corps in 2011. At the time, she was, as she puts it, “out of work and almost out of hope.” She had her high school diploma, but was looking for a training program that would help her find a path to a well-paying career. She had applied to numerous jobs, but only received a couple interviews. Newly married and with a one-year-old daughter, Kiara wanted to find a job that would allow her young family to move out of her husband’s grandmother’s house.

“I went to Civicorps to get an application and they called back quickly with an interview date. I had no idea what possibilities the Corps was about to offer me,” said Kiara. “It all sounded great, but I didn’t know how I would fit in, or if I could even last. All I knew is that I needed a job.”

But Kiara did fit in. Her supervisors say she “is an excellent team player and a quiet leader. Her positive attitude is recognized beyond the Recycling Team and the energy she brings to support her teammates is appreciated and admired by both staff and fellow Corpsmembers.”

Kiara was an active member of the Recycling Team for two and half years, receiving forklift training and her Commercial Driver’s License Permit. She took a break from the program for a couple years when she had her second child, but returned to Civicorps to finish what she had started.

Kiara obtained her Commercial Driver’s license, with both passenger and airbrakes endorsements, and has recently been accepted into the Civicorps-Waste Management Teamsters Apprenticeship Program, which is only offered to two drivers every two years. Upon completion of the program, Kiara will be assured a Teamster position, starting at $70,000 a year, plus all the union benefits. She and her family will be positioned for financial sustainability well into retirement.   

Kiara has supported several other Corpsmembers in obtaining their Commercial Driver’s Licenses and permits. One thing she is known for is completing her routes ahead of schedule and immediately checking in to see who she can assist. She also takes great pride in her recycling truck and keeps it clean and shiny, which reflects well on her and on Civicorps.

Outside the Corps, Kiara tries to inspire young women and girls to be bold and brave. When she is skillfully navigating her huge recycling truck through narrow streets and collecting material from schools and local commercial districts, she has had many interactions with women, both young and old, who are impressed by her abilities and her confidence in a job that most consider only for men.

Asked about the impact of Civicorps on her life, Kiara recalls, “Every other Friday my boss would hold meetings with the staff and Corpsmemers in my department about ‘real life’ and making grown-up decisions for the betterment of our families and ourselves. I would be sitting in my seat thinking, ‘Wow! This is where I need to be!’ I knew I wouldn’t be able to get that from anywhere else. A lot of other Corpsmembers thought it was boring, but not me, I was fully engaged. I felt fortunate to be in that position and I wished other people I knew could be alongside me. That, along with the love I was shown, really helped me grow.  Just the thought of knowing I had so much support made me feel like I couldn’t fail.”

The experience of being in a space where she felt appreciated and respected has confirmed Kiara’s commitment to one day create a community center; a safe, positive space where children and families can play and learn. She says, “When you get love, it helps you grow. It is impossible not to grow.”

Kiara is taking this message to heart. She has already written a book for her children and plans to write more books to empower children and young adults and teach them to acknowledge their positive attributes.

Kiara has used her AmeriCorps Education Award to help support her studies at Merritt Community College, where she is pursuing her dreams of being a writer. 

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Hurricane Maria Recovery: A Washington Conservation Corps Story from the U.S. Virgin Islands


Washington Conservation Corps members with All Hands, a disaster response organization.
 

In early November, 12 Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) AmeriCorps members finished a 30-day disaster response deployment to the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Corpsmembers assisted communities affected by Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm that made landfall in September. An additional 18 WCC AmeriCorps members were deployed recently and will be on the ground through mid-December. Korey Nuehs shares a personal account from serving on the first wave of responders to communities on St. Thomas.
 


By Korey Nuehs, WCC AmeriCorps member
 

Another day of rain. I see the homeowner grab an old leather bag from the bed and clutch it in her arms. 

"This needs to be saved," she says.

"It's wet and moldy," her daughter responds.

"It was your father's."

The mother grabs the bag and walks outside without saying another word. Both she and her daughter are wearing white M95 masks to protect against the mold. It's still raining, there is a hole in the roof, and I'm tearing down the daughter's bedroom. 

I tear down her bed and move it outside to be thrown into a dumpster. I come back to tear down the shelves that used to hold the daughter's belongings. They are empty now. I see a quote stuck to the middle shelf. I tear it off and set it aside. I grab the shelves and move them outside to the trash heap beginning to form. 

Only it's not trash. It is years of memories and attachments that can't be saved. I walk back into the house. My boots and socks are wet from walking through the foot of standing water inside the house. As I walk back into the daughter's bedroom, I see her hunched over, reading the quote I pulled from the shelf. I step outside to give her a moment alone. The quote reads:

"The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you."

I served four years in the U.S. Army. I'm used to deploying to foreign countries, used to living in stressful conditions, used to being uncomfortable and dealing with the forces of Mother Nature. But in the Army, there are always barriers between you and the people. Language, culture, animosity, time, and space all help to distance the soldier from the people in their homeland. I wasn't used to stepping into someone's wound, watching it bleed, watching it attempt to heal. 

I wasn't used to seeing a mother struggle to make the choice between which belongings to keep and which to throw away, or watch her try to keep a calm face while a disaster has destroyed almost everything she's owned. I saw both her pain and her resilience. She baked us cookies and blessed us by name.

More importantly, I listened to her story. I listened to her tell us how she and her husband moved out to the island and bought a house. I listened to her tell us that her husband died when the kids were young and how she made the decision to stay on the island. And then a storm hits. Old wounds are cracked open, but somehow, through it all is not an ending, but a beginning.

"The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you."

I joined AmeriCorps because I needed a job. I know where I am going and where I have been. I want to go to law school. I want to have a family. I want to make a difference. And yet, life happens. It moves without us and shapes us, tells us where we will go, and sometimes, sometimes, we just have to move forward. 

The woman we helped probably had plans like mine. She might have even sat down one morning this summer on the porch overlooking the valley below, letting her imagination run, perhaps coming to similar conclusions about where she was going. And yet, life happens. Two category five hurricanes hit, and all she can do is move forward.

Our AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team is responding to a disaster that will show lasting impacts years from now. We are “mucking and gutting” people’s homes, deconstructing them to remove material damaged by water and mold so people can eventually rebuild.

Yet, a creation of sorts has already begun. Out of the disaster, a web of millions of lives are now intertwined because of these two hurricanes. Now I know this woman and her daughter. I know their story, and, because of that, I share in it, and another story forms. One where individuals no longer move forward alone, but as a community supporting each other. An island and a people form a story of renewal amidst a landscape of devastation. 


A WCC AmeriCorps member on the most recent deployment treats mold.

Moving Forward Initiative Guest Series: Interview with Dr. Andrew W. Kahrl on African American Leisure and Recreation Spaces in the Era of Jim Crow

Dr. Andrew W. Kahrl is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Virginia. His research focuses on the social, economic, and environmental history of land use, real estate development, and racial inequality in the 20th century United States.

Dr. Kahrl is the author of The Land Was Ours: How Black Beaches Became White Wealth in the Coastal South (UNC Press: 2016), as well as the forthcoming book, Free the Beaches: The Story of Ned Coll and the Battle for America’s Most Exclusive Shoreline (Yale University Press: 2018).

As part of The Corps Network’s Moving Forward Initiative, we spoke with Dr. Kahrl about the outdoor leisure and recreation opportunities available to African Americans during the era of Jim Crow. Read our conversation to learn how policies, events and social practices shaped the way African Americans recreated and utilized outdoor spaces in the first half of the 20th century. We also discuss historical influences on the modern conservation and outdoor recreation movements. 

Click for Moving Forward Initiative homepage


 

Tell us a bit about your area of study and how you came to focus on the intersection of race, the environment and the economy in 20th century America?

I wrote a dissertation, that then formed the basis for my first book, that looked at the history of African American outdoor leisure spaces in the Jim Crow South. The question that framed my first book was, “how did African Americans develop parallel social spaces in a segregated society?”

We’re familiar with whites-only swimming pools and parks, but there was less information available about how African Americans created alternative social spaces in a Jim Crow world. What types of spaces – especially outdoor spaces – were available?

I realized early in the research how extensive the network of black social spaces was. The importance of these spaces didn’t just reach into the world of recreation and leisure, but also into black economic life. Two of the main things I uncovered were, 1) just how widespread African American landholdings were in coastal areas, which was something I initially wasn’t expecting. And 2) how critical African American leisure spaces were to local black economies.

In my mind, these findings spoke to how we should look at people’s interactions with the outdoor world not just through the lens of environment, but also through the lens of economy. Furthermore, we should think of Jim Crow not only as a racial regime, but a land regime. Jim Crow profoundly influenced the built and natural environments of the South, both in the way whites excluded people, and in the way African Americans carved out spaces of their own.

For my first book, I gravitated specifically towards the history of black beaches because, for one, there were so many of them scattered throughout the South. These beaches were a product of opportunity: African Americans having land that they owned and could then turn into enterprises.
 


Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University - via Grist.org


 

Can you discuss why, in the first half of the 20th century, there was a need and desire to create black-owned leisure spaces?

In the era of Jim Crow, the types of activities from which African Americans were fully excluded tended to involve more intimate spaces: funeral homes, barber shops, restaurants, and leisure spaces, too. These were spaces where segregation was so complete that African Americans’ opportunities to carve out parallel institutions was greatest.

When we think about what people want when they seek out leisure, they want relaxation, comradery. Unless you are seeking to engage in a form of protest or challenge the social order, the last place you as an African American would want to spend leisure time is surrounded by hostile, racist white folks. It stands to reason that African Americans who had the time and resources to carve out moments of leisure would want to find welcoming environments.

It’s important to note how, especially for many working class African American families, it was rare to find moments of respite, and rare to find moments when you could rest from having to deal with white people. Daily interactions with white people in the Jim Crow South could be frustrating, hostile, humiliating – everything that leisure is not. So that gives you a sense of why it was so critically important for African Americans to have spaces of their own.


 

Can you talk about what the Green Book was? What was its purpose and what information did it offer?

The Negro Motorist Green Book was a guide – published from 1936 to 1967 – that provided a list of welcoming restaurants, hotels, and other accommodations for African American travelers trying to navigate a Jim Crow world. It was geared towards providing information on a town-by-town, state-by-state basis. If a certain town was not listed, that was a signal to keep driving.

The Green Book primarily provided names of small, black-owned businesses, but, as you get into the last days of its publication – you begin to see corporate chains making it known to readers – who were mostly middle class African Americans – that their business was welcome.

The Green Book existed because America was a racist country. It responded to a need among African American consumers for information about places they could go where their money would be accepted and they would be treated with dignity.

An important point for many African American mothers and fathers with small children was a desire to shield their families from racism. Not to try to create a fantasy world where racism didn’t exist, but to try and prevent any humiliating or dangerous encounters if possible. This need was part of what the Green Book aimed to serve. By patronizing businesses in the Green Book, families would not need to experience rejection.

In doing interviews for my book, one thing noted by African Americans who grew up during this time was that, if their family was travelling a long distance or going through the Deep South, they would leave in the dead of night so they could get to their destination while the kids were asleep. This was to avoid situations where the kids might say, “let’s stop here,” or “I have to use the restroom,” and the parents would need to have a difficult conversation where they’d explain why they couldn’t stop.

 


The Idlewild Club House, Idlewild, Mich., September 1938. (Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images) - via NPR.org
 

Where were black-owned outdoor leisure spaces? Were they predominantly in the South, where racism and segregation would have been more overt?  

A lot of African American leisure spaces grew up informally. Many of the black beaches I write about began with black families who owned land who would let it out to picnic groups, church groups, and people seeking a place to relax on the weekend. If you flip through the pages of the Green Book, you’ll find that many of the locations listed as lodging are people’s homes – or what are called “Do-Drop-Ins.” These are places where a black family that owned a house would let out an extra room. It was sort of like an early version of Airbnb.

As you might expect, black-owned leisure spaces grew up around areas with large concentrations of African Americans. They followed the demographic changes that unfolded during the 20th century. In the nineteen-teens and twenties, as the black population grew in northern cities, you began to see black vacation communities sprout up in places like rural Michigan or northern Indiana. In Michigan, there was Idlewild, which was a famous vacation destination for black doctors and professionals who lived in Chicago.

In the South, there were both formal resort communities, as well as destinations that would more resemble a space for local folks or the working class.

Black outdoor leisure spaces were as varied and diverse as black America itself. There were places for the highly educated or, as they were sometimes called, the “aristocrats of color.” These were places like Highland Beach, which is outside Washington, DC on Maryland’s western shore. This was where Howard University professors and the black cultural elite of Washington would go. This was a place where working black families would not feel welcome. The families that lived at Highland Beach worked just as hard as white elite resort communities in excluding certain people from their spaces. On the other hand, you had places that very much catered to working families. Class segregation or separatism was very pronounced in black America, especially when it came to leisure spaces.

 


Archival photo from Shenandoah National Park - National Park Service historic photos

 

Would African Americans have frequented national parks? In our research, we came across an archival photo from Shenandoah National Park of a sign pointing towards the “negro area” for camping and picnicking.

I’m not an expert on this, but, from what I’ve read, African American presence at national parks was very, very small. Especially in the South, there was certainly a climate of hostility towards African Americans seeking out these types of spaces. State parks in the South were segregated across the board. There was a great book about this – Landscapes of Exclusion, by William O’Brien – that tells the story of a whole parallel world of black state parks that developed throughout the South. Some of these parks were areas of existing state parks, while some were separate places altogether.

 

 

Could you tell us a bit more about African American beaches in the Jim Crow South and what became of these spaces?

The story I tell in my book is one in which many of these places – and, consequently, one way in which many African Americans interacted with the natural world – declined quite dramatically from the 1960s to the present as waterfront properties in the South became highly coveted. African Americans who owned this land often found themselves being swindled out of it or forced off the land by the courts or public officials.

The story of black land ownership in the South in the 20th century is one of decline. The high watermark for black land ownership in 20th century America was 1910. It’s a time we conventionally associate with African Americans lacking political rights and opportunities in the workplace, but part of the story is that, because there were so few avenues of opportunity, black Southerners worked extraordinarily hard to acquire land. Land ownership was a means of liberation. However, this freedom increasingly eroded over the course of the 20th century, even as African Americans gained political rights.

At the time when many African Americans acquired these coastal lands, they were not valuable. In fact, they were probably some of the least desirable properties in the South. Coastal properties were remote, hard to get to, and were often not conducive to largescale agriculture. Additionally, they were, and still are, subjected to violent storms. These were places that, by and large, white Southerners avoided.

As an example, the South Carolina Sea Islands became home to the largest concentration of African American landowners anywhere in the South. This was land that was essentially abandoned by slave owners during the Civil War. Edisto Island was the birthplace of “40 acres and a mule”: the idea of taking land that had been captured or abandoned during the Civil War and redistributing it to the slaves who had worked on it.

In short, these coastal properties were cheap and readily available. Also, if you’re an African American seeking to create as much physical distance between yourself and white society, this was the type of place you would gravitate towards.

Now, of course, things change dramatically over the course of the 20th century as we begin engineering shorelines, building roads and bridges, and taking other steps to make these areas conducive to largescale development. That’s an important story of the 20th century: the story of the increased effort to bring land under control and make it profitable at a time when more and more Americans have the time and means to vacation and buy second homes. That’s the story of how these places became so highly coveted and how African Americans who owned land often found themselves in the crosshairs of speculators and developers.

 

 

Most of the black-owned outdoor leisure spaces you write about have died out. Can you talk about why this happened? What would you consider to be the legacy of these spaces?

One of the most obvious examples of the legacy of black beaches and resorts was that these spaces nurtured a whole generation of black performers who would later go on to become some of the most famous artists of the 20th century. James Brown, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson, Moms Mabley – these were African American performers who would cross over into the mainstream and become world famous, but many of them got their start performing at black leisure spaces.

The important lesson of these spaces is one that I stress in the subtitle of my book: “how black beaches became white wealth in the coastal South.” With the Civil Rights movement and the end of segregation, there is a demise of black Main Streets and other African American cultural institutions and businesses that segregation had necessitated. When this happened, what was the loss to the sense of community and camaraderie these spaces fostered?



Highland Beach Picnic Group, 1930. Image Courtesy of Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Behring Center, Smithsonian Institution - via BlackPast.org


One thing that was undeniably lost was wealth. The places I write about – like the South Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands, Maryland’s western shore, the Gulf Coast of Mississippi – these are places where the land that African Americans owned in the first half of the 20th century is now some of the most valuable property in the United States.

Property that’s worth in the tens of millions of dollars used to be owned by African Americans and it was taken from them, often through various forms of chicanery and deceit, if not outright theft. The black families that owned that land never saw a dime.

When we have these conversations about the origins and persistence of the racial wealth gap in America, many times people seek to identify all the opportunities that African Americans have been denied. And that’s important, but we often lose sight of what was taken from previous generations. This was wealth that was in their hands, but they were never able to fully realize it. Instead, it became someone else’s wealth. It became the wealth of corporate developers who acquired the land for very cheap. African American families are now sometimes cleaning the bathrooms and tending to the lawns of land that their ancestors owned. That should give us pause when thinking about the legacy of these spaces.

 

 

As part of the Moving Forward Initiative, we hope to examine why there is a persistent lack of diversity in visitation at parks and participation in outdoor recreation. Do you see any historical context for this disparity?

Well certainly there’s the role of urbanization and the concentration of non-white populations in inner cities. During the 20th century, you saw African Americans being systematically excluded from becoming homeowners in the suburbs, coupled with the lack of public transportation options to access areas outside the urban core. This severely limited the ability of African Americans living in the urban North to have access to outdoor space.

Additionally, the natural environment has a whole different meaning in the collective memory for African Americans than it does for white Americans. Historically, spaces that for many white Americans provided a sense of adventure were, for some African Americans, a place of fear and uncertainty. These were places where their ancestors or own family members were terrorized. Outdoor areas in the rural South are littered with stories of lynching, violent deaths, unsolved murders – all sorts of crimes were committed against African Americans in these places.

Then, you combine that with the fact that many outdoor destinations that were once familiar to African Americans disappeared with integration. For some African American families, part of why they may have little direct experience with outdoor recreation is because the places that were once a part of their family tradition are gone.

 

 

Relatedly, do you see any historical context for the lack of diversity in the mainstream conservation movement?

The conservation movement has, throughout much of the 20th century, been white-dominated and defined by issues that concern white Americans. At the very least, the movement has certainly been oblivious to the concerns of black Americans.

There has been a sense among African Americans that the conservation movement was not for them, it was not in their name. There’s a perception that the interests of the conservation movement are directly in opposition to the interests of African Americans; this is due, in part, to the way opponents of conservation have tried to exploit division

To give you an example, there was a famous controversy in the area around Hilton Head over the efforts of BASF – an international conglomerate – to locate a plant along a waterway. The plant would’ve brought lots of jobs, but also would’ve polluted rivers and streams. Folks in the environmental movement, who were dead-set against this plant being located there, were framed as an enemy for blocking job creation. Part of this was BASF trying to work-up divisions and appeal to African Americans for their support.

That’s just one example of how, particularly in struggling African American communities that need jobs, many have come to see, either through direct experience or perception, that the interests of the conservation movement come at the expense of their own pocketbooks.

 

 

You have another book coming out soon regarding race and beaches in America. Could you tell us a bit more about the issues this book explores?

This is a story of the Northeast, and particularly Connecticut. In a way, I’m looking at the flipside of the story that I write about in my first book in that I’m telling the story of exclusive white beaches along Connecticut’s Gold Coast. These are communities that worked diligently to exclude the public.

Alongside of that, you have the issue of segregation in the North. The children of those who migrated north during the Great Migration are, by the time we get to the 1960s and ‘70s, living in very concentrated urban neighborhoods with very little practical access to the great outdoors due to a whole host of factors.

So that’s setting the stage for the story that unfolds, which is one in which a social activist – Ned Coll - started an anti-poverty organization that was dedicated to improving the living conditions within Hartford’s black neighborhoods. He was also trying to engage the support of white America – specifically liberal white America: the folks that expressed their solidarity with African Americans, yet often lived in all-white suburban communities and had very little direct contact with African Americans. Coll was trying to break down those walls separating white and black America.

One idea that he latched onto was to get black children in Hartford and other cities out of the ghetto in the summer and down to the beach. This would provide opportunities for them to venture into new places, and would help foster better understanding among white Americans.

But when he tried to bring a busload of city kids down to the Connecticut coast, he discovered there was nowhere to go. Almost the entire state shoreline was closed off to the public. At that point he became an activist, a very creative and inventive one, for the cause of open beaches.

He would do amphibious landings where they would come ashore and kids would get off the boats and play on the beach. Legally, the beach belonged to the public, but you had to get creative if there was no way you could get to the shore from land.  

He was trying to draw attention to this lack of access to the shoreline. Also, he was trying to draw attention to the real deprivation of the urban poor, especially in regard to outdoor spaces and outdoor leisure. He wanted to challenge the liberals that liked to talk a lot about concern for the poor, but did very little in their own lives to improve conditions for marginalized populations. 

 


For Your Consideration 

As you read this blog, here are some questions for you to consider: 

  1. Scroll through copies of the Green Book using this digital collection from the New York Public Library. Do you notice any patterns in the advertisements or listings? How does the Green Book change over the years and what might these changes say about society?
     
  2. What do “the great outdoors” mean to you? What comes to mind, or what do you feel, when you hear that term? What has shaped your thoughts and feelings about the outdoors? 
     
  3. In the modern day, have you witnessed any racial or ethnic division in how people choose to (or are able to) recreate and spend leisure time? If so, why do you believe these separations exist? How might these divisions be problematic? In what ways might they not be problematic? 
     
  4. When you were growing up, or in your own family and friend groups today, where did/do you go to vacation or recreate? To what extent were/are your leisure decisions based off traditions with which you were raised?
     
  5. For Corps: When working with Corpsmembers who may have limited experience living and working in the wilderness, what do you do to support them? What are reasons why these Corpsmembers might have limited exposure to camping, hiking, boating or other outdoor activities in which your crew engages? Have you ever had a discussion with Corpsmembers about barriers to outdoor access?

 


Resources & Supplemental Readings

View the complete Moving Forward Initiative Resource Library here.

 

Douglas, Leah. “African Americans Have Lost Untold Acres of Land Over the Last Century: An Obscure Legal Loophole is Often to Blame.” The Nation, 26 June 2017. Web, https://www.thenation.com/article/african-americans-have-lost-acres/, 07 November2017.

A look at how African Americans gained land following the Civil War, but gradually lost it throughout the 20th century due to a variety of reasons, including legal loopholes, forced buy-outs, discriminatory lending practices, and the Great Migration.

 

Engle, Reed. “Segregation/Desegregation,” Resource Management Newsletter, January 1996. Web, https://www.nps.gov/shen/learn/historyculture/segregation.htm, 07 November 2017.

Cultural Resource Specialist Reed Engle looks at the segregation and desegregation of Shenandoah National Park.

 

Goffe, Leslie. “How the 1964 Civil Rights Act Cost Black America,” New African Magazine, 08 May 2014. Web, http://newafricanmagazine.com/how-the-1964-civil-rights-act-cost-black-america/, 07 November 2017.

A look at how the Civil Rights Act led to the movement of African Americans to white suburbs and the decline of African American businesses, cultural institutions and community in urban areas.

 

“The Green Book.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/collections/the-green-book#/?tab=about. 12 September 2017.

Digital copies of the several editions of The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide published annually from 1936 – 1967 that listed lodging, restaurants and businesses that catered to African Americans.

 

 “Idlewild, Michigan (1912 - ).” BlackPast.org, http://www.blackpast.org/aah/idlewild-michigan-1912. Accessed 07 November 2017.

 

Kahrl, Andrew W. The Land was Ours: How Black Beaches Became White Wealth in the Coastal South. Oxford University Press. 2012.

By reconstructing African American life along the coast, Kahrl demonstrates just how important these properties were for African American communities and leisure, as well as for economic empowerment, especially during the era of Jim Crow in the South.
https://www.amazon.com/Land-Was-Ours-Beaches-Coastal/dp/1469628724

 

Leland, John. “Investors Move Next Door, Unsettling a Black Beachside Enclave,” The New York Times, 25 August 2016. Web, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/26/nyregion/new-neighbors-unsettle-black-enclave-sag-harbor-hills.html?_r=0, 07 November 2017.

Some residents of Sag Harbor, NY have grown wary of an increasing number of investors sweeping up properties in the area.

 

O’Brien, William E. Landscapes of Exclusion: State Parks and Jim Crow in the American South. University of Massachusetts Press. December 2015.

From early in the twentieth century, the state park movement sought to expand public access to scenic American places. During the 1930s those efforts accelerated as the National Park Service used New Deal funding and labor to construct parks nationwide. However, under severe Jim Crow restrictions in the South, African Americans were routinely and officially denied entrance to these sites. In response, advocacy groups pressured the National Park Service to provide some facilities for African Americans. William E. O’Brien shows that these parks were typically substandard in relation to “white only” areas.
http://www.umass.edu/umpress/title/landscapes-exclusion

 

Winerip, Michael. “A Legend and his Catskills Resort for Blacks,” The New York Times, 15 July 1985. Web, http://www.nytimes.com/1985/07/15/nyregion/a-legend-and-his-catskills-resort-for-blacks.html?pagewanted=all, 07 November 2017.

A look at Peg Leg Bates Country Club, a resort for African Americans in the Catskill Mountains of New York that operated from the 1950s to the 1980s. The business closed two years after publication of this article and now sits abandoned.

Hurricane Harvey Recovery: Firsthand Account of Relief Efforts in TX from Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa AmeriCorps Member Caleb Bell


AmeriCorps members gut homes damaged in Hurricane Harvey.
 

In response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, several member organizations of The Corps Network have sent crews to Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Cooridnation of most of these deployments has been through the AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team (A-DRT) program.

Corpsmembers from across the country have assisted with a range of activities, including clearing debris, coordinating volunteers and donations, conducting damage assessments, and helping muck, gut and tarp homes. Below, read the firsthand account of Caleb Bell, an AmeriCorps member from Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa who deployed to Texas.

 


By Caleb Bell

My name is Caleb Bell. I was born in Des Moines, IA, raised in Colorado, and I went to Iowa State University for college.

My AmeriCorps term this year has been great. I joined Conservation Corps Minnesota and Iowa (CCMI) for the professional experience of leading a crew and learning new land management skills. I wanted to get more field and leadership experience and I have received both during my AmeriCorps term.

One big reason I joined AmeriCorps is because I didn’t know what to expect. It was something new and unpredictable. My home base is in Western Iowa. All I knew going into my term was that I would be doing land management: using chainsaws, brush sawing, treating invasive species, and hopefully having the chance to work on prescribed burns. I ended up doing a lot of burning. My crew completed over 6,000 acres of prescribed burns in about three months. Before being deployed on disaster, my plant identification skills increased and my professional communication and leadership skills grew.

 


 

Heading to Texas

When I found out I would be deployed for disaster response, I was excited. I knew there would be a lot more to learn; that’s a huge reason I joined AmeriCorps.

Going into the disaster response deployment, all I knew was that I was leaving for Texas. I knew that I would be in Austin for training, but had no idea what would come after that. I was told either Corpus Christi or Houston were the most likely locations, but I wasn’t told what I would be doing. I left my shop in Honey Creek, IA at 7:00 am on September 5 for Ames, IA; then I drove from Ames to St. Louis, MO that same night. I arrived in Austin just before midnight on September 6.

When I got to Austin, I thought my deployment would only be for 30 days. Three weeks into my deployment I was told I could stay until November 13. This would make 72 days of deployment. When I arrived, six of the seven people from my crew were deployed to Texas. In total, there were 52 Corpsmembers from CCMI.

 


Houston

We were originally sent to Houston. We lived in an old Wal-Mart that had been turned into a FEMA responder camp. The space had a capacity of 1,400 cots and a small dining area. We had shower trailers and were doing laundry at the laundromat.

Houston was definitely different than I expected. It was a shock at first to see how much devastation the flooding caused. In the neighborhood where we served, there were people who had experienced four or five feet of water in their homes. The people we helped hadn’t started mucking and gutting at all; the water had just receded a few days prior to our arrival.

I was in one house that really needed help. The homeowner had belongings in every room, floor to ceiling. At first it was extremely difficult to work on her home. I had a really hard time believing what I was seeing, and she had a hard time letting things go. The more I worked on the home and talked to the owner, the easier it became to help her. She knew that things needed to go, and began to let us throw things away, even though it was hard for her.

The most rewarding part of helping this survivor was when she thanked my team for helping her. She told me she hadn’t seen her walls in 25 years. It was so moving for me when we finished the house. Just before I drove away, the trash collectors started picking up the 200+ cubic yards of debris we had moved. It really showed how 10 strong backs and three long days can really change someone’s life. In the case of this survivor, she would never have been able to remove everything herself. Both physically because of her health condition and mentally because it was so hard to let things go.

Around the time this house was being started, our living situation changed. We moved from the responder camp at Wal-Mart to Hilton Americas in downtown Houston. The Hilton had been rented out by another agency and they didn’t want the rooms to go to waste, so, for five days, all 52 of us had our own room in a Hilton. I would say the Hilton offered a huge attitude boost. I was exhausted. Mentally, it was hard to see everyone’s lives affected so much by the storm. Physically, I was tired from working 14-15 hour days with a 110+ heat index. I needed the break, and the rooftop pool didn’t hurt.

 


Brazoria County

Right before our day off, we were told that we would be leaving Houston and going south to Brazoria County. The news that we were leaving Houston was really hard for me. After canvassing and working in the neighborhood, I knew there was a huge need for us in Houston; it was really hard to wrap my head around the fact that we had to tell homeowners that we wouldn’t be able to stay in Houston. I know that Brazoria County fit with AmeriCorps’ mission, but I still had a hard time. I was happy being deployed because I had a really good chance to help people who truly needed our assistance, and in Houston we found just as much need as I found in Brazoria County.

In Brazoria County, it was definitely easier to find a place to stay, laundry facilities, food, and there was a very supportive community, but it was much harder to find people who needed help. The first day in Brazoria County, my team drove around for four hours canvassing and didn’t find any homeowners who needed our help. Part of this was because we were later in the recovery process in this county, and part was because it is a lot less densely populated than Houston.

We have been able to find survivors who needed assistance, it just took more looking to find the ones who were hardest hit. There are some homes in Brazoria County that had 10 - 11 feet of water in them. A lot of homes here had water sitting in them for 10 days before the flooding receded. These homes were in really rough shape; the ones we found in the last week that hadn’t been touched yet were so full of mold that even ceiling panels needed to come out. Most houses being mucked and gutted now need full floor to ceiling mucking.

 




Change of Responsibilities

With the move from Houston to Brazoria, I transitioned from strike team lead to the assessment team. As a member of the assessment team I was often one of the first AmeriCorps faces these survivors met. This was definitely a change of pace. In the city, there was an attitude that everyone was all promises; we definitely weren’t the first group that had showed up offering help. In the county, we were often the first group that had stopped to even ask if people needed assistance.

After a week or so, I switched from assessments to AmeriCorps Liaison. As Liaison I really helped to build relationships within the community. These relationships have led to continued community support and a lot of help from the community in feeding and housing the AmeriCorps members here, and helping find high-priority homes for us to clean.

The relationship with United Way has been extremely helpful. The Long Term Recovery Executive Committee voted to donate money towards our food needs, helped us relocate a survivor whose home hadn’t been worked on at all, and continues to help us with our needs. We also help them by doing assessments and muck-and-guts for some of their cases. This kind of teamwork is making it so this community has a really good chance at recovery. As Liaison I have also really learned to talk to people. Whether it is asking for help, asking someone if they need help, or just starting small talk, I have definitely grown as a communicator because of my role with A-DRT (AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team).

One role I’m really proud of is helping to create an AmeriCorps presence in Little Cambodia. Some of the connections I made at the Long Term Recovery meetings asked me one day if I could help bring some pallets of food to the refugee village. The process of moving the food and helping the survivors unload the food was amazing. It really felt like I was doing something meaningful. Since the first food delivery, I have helped with a water delivery and a second food delivery. Each time I went to the village, more of the residents recognized me, and I just felt like I was doing the right thing. Between my donation visits and the assessment team spending time there, we were beginning to gain the trust of the village. I believe A-DRT has a few houses scheduled for roof tarps in Little Cambodia soon. I’m definitely glad that I was able to be part of such a unique opportunity.

 


A Learning Experience

In the community, I have met people from all walks of life. There have been people who always see the positive, even though their life was flipped upside down, and there are also those who only see the negative, even when their lives haven’t changed a lot. It is really interesting to see the effect that just listening to people’s stories has on their outlook. I have definitely found that some people who are having a hard time with everything that has happened tend to do a lot better after you just listen to their story. This is definitely something I will try and take with me after deployment.

My interactions with survivors have been really good for the most part. Most people are really happy to receive help, and I had only a couple of negative encounters. I think the people who I had rough encounters with were just at a really tough point; after we helped them, they really opened up and were very happy with the work we were able to do.

I think I have learned a lot about people during this deployment. I’ve learned that a lot of people who seem strong and confident have a hard time during times of crisis because they aren’t used to things not going well. I’ve also learned that a lot of quiet, more reserved people really shine during situations like this. However, I’ve also learned that neither of these things are true for everyone. Each person deals with stress differently.

I’ve become a lot more comfortable talking with people I don’t know. I can talk to someone I meet on the street about the work that A-DRT is doing here, or just about how their day is going. Before deployment I wasn’t much for small talk. I tended to avoid social events and had a really hard time talking to strangers. Now I can talk to anyone about almost anything.

I think that everyone should take the opportunity to help with disaster response if they have the chance. This deployment has definitely been life-changing for me. I wish that I had been able to stay longer. It’s hard for me to know that there is no more work to do here, but I have to go home and have three weeks off. I think there is a lot I would change about this deployment, but I am really happy with the difference I feel that I’ve made here.

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