CAC AmeriCorps Louisiana Disaster Deployment – #DisasterServe

Article Author:
Jason Scott, CAC AmeriCorps Program Director
Based on the accounts of 2016-2017 CAC AmeriCorps members Alex Bonner, Sarah Carman, Christine Doka, Owain Heyden, Shannon Haines and Isaac Hopkins

It is Monday, August the 15th.  It is the first day of service for our AmeriCorps members at their respective project sites.  6 of these members will be called upon to make a difference that they had no idea they would be asked to make.  The previous week these members sat in a variety of training on shelter operations and damage assessment as part of CAC AmeriCorps’ new partnership with the Red Cross.  Training that they admittedly didn’t think they would ever use.  On August 12th and 13th, 2016, three times more rain fell on Louisiana than had fallen during Hurricane Katrina.  An event described as the worst US natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy.  This unprecedented rainfall from an unnamed storm resulted in catastrophic flooding displacing thousands of people from their homes.  The previous Saturday Kendra Taylor with the East Tennessee Chapter of the American Red Cross reached out to me to request members to support the response and I initiated the deployment process by reaching out to site supervisors to see who would be available for two weeks to support this operation.

13925909_664213647066288_8791560290175160332_oTuesday afternoon, Alex, Sarah, Christine, Owain, Shannon and Isaac departed from McGhee Tyson Airport and arrived in Louisiana with many other Red Cross Volunteers.  During their two week deployment they regularly worked 12+ hour days.  They “slept in a variety of places on a variety of cots” during their stay which included a church, office building, 4H building, hotel and Baton Rouge Welcome Center.

Alex, Christine, Isaac and Owain worked at the Lamar Dixon Center shelter which served more than 800 clients while they were there.  During their time they performed a variety of tasks including preparing cots, feeding, cleaning and stockpiling supplies.  Isaac recounts an experience where they had to move cots from a portion of the shelter where the roof was damaged when suddenly Mickey and Minnie Mouse arrive to entertain shelter residents creating a commotion that complicated their ability to complete this task.  In addition Owain served as a story teller for children and Alex was “babysat by one of the kids in the shelter.”  At one point the building leaked and members had to work to protect and salvage food donations.  The diversity of work, and the surreal circumstance under which they occur, paint a picture of organized chaos with Red Cross and partner government, non-profit and private organizations working together to provide structure in an environment where stability has been removed.

img_20160824_141052303_top1Shannon served at the Baton Rouge River Center Arena Shelter where she worked the night shift from 7pm to 7am the next morning.  The River Center served between 350-400 people while Shannon was there.  Shannon’s major role was in the dormitory handling the needs of clients.  Shannon rarely took breaks and consistently sought out opportunities to serve clients.  In Shannon’s ‘Disaster Relief Operation Work Performance Evaluation’, her supervisor recommended that Shannon continue her training in sheltering and that she should be considered for a role as a Shelter Supervisor in the future.  During the debriefing, Shannon talked about the different layers of local, state and federal organizations present in her shelter and the rigid security structure that was in place to keep things orderly and safe.

“You do what needs to be done.. it is all about the clients” – Shannon Haines

100_0751Sarah was assigned to bulk distribution in the warehouse on Sorrel Ave. where her primary responsibilities were to deliver emergency supplies to flood victims.  Her supervisor noted that ‘although she may be small in stature, she makes up for it in guts.  She is an asset to the American Red Cross.’  Sarah talked about the desensitization that occurs after you start to see piles of debris day after day and how evident class disparities are in a community in disaster situations where impacts disproportionately effect those with fewer resources to aid in recovery.

100_0748Although the experience was exhausting and provided little personal privacy or reprieve for the members, the consensus was that the hard work was worth it to be part of a response that directly helps people when they are most in need.  The members have since returned and are now back at their sites continuing their service to East Tennessee and it’s people and natural resources.

When planning for the 2016-2017 service year I drew upon my own experience as a member of AmeriCorps*NCCC in 2006, when my corps responded to Hurricane Katrina, to design a framework that would allow our members to be agile and have the training and ability to have a direct impact during times of great need such as these.  CAC AmeriCorps looks forward to continuing to afford these opportunities for our members to make compelling differences for people and places.

You can listen to members Christine Doka and Sarah Carman talk to WATE before their deployment here.

You can listen to members Alex Bonner and Issac Hopkins talk to WBIR before their deployment here.

Learn more about the Louisiana Floods of 2016 here.

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This blog post is a collection of personal reflections and expressions. All opinions represented are those of the author and do not represent the official opinion or views of the Knoxville – Knox County Community Action Committee, CAC AmeriCorps or any other party referenced.