Since the end of July 2017, I have been enrolled in a program called FEMA Corps. In essence, FEMA Corps is a 10-month-long, team-based commitment to national service and the neighborhoods of America. For the last 7 months, my team and I have traveled all over the country, working side by side with FEMA and attempting to provide disaster aid and relief to the communities affected by Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and Hurricane Maria. The program is an intense journey into the inner workings of the government emergency management operations, and it gives it’s members a toolbox of different skills and experiences that can be carried with them into the professional world after graduation. That being said, however, the program is certainly not without challenges.
At the beginning of August 2017, myself and my team of 8 other people were sent to Port Aransas, Texas to assist FEMA with their Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.
What we found there was heartbreaking. The destruction of the town was beyond words. Broken glass, power lines and debris were everywhere you turned. Out in the streets, there were piles of debris that were easily taller than I was, containing waterlogged memories and memories of the past. But even more heartbreaking were the stories of the Survivors. Those are the moments that froze around me and will stay with me forever. I still remember faces of those that I talked to. I still remember the pain in their voices and the way their presence seemed to wisp away after I had left their presence. These are the Ghost stories of Hurricane Harvey.
On September 3rd, I arrived in Port Aransas, TX to assist FEMA with their disaster recovery mission after Hurricane Harvey.
I don’t think any of us were prepared for what we found down there. To this day, it’s hard for me to find the words to describe exactly what we saw, and it’s even harder trying to explain what it was like working on an active disaster. But I believe it’s really important to try to share my experiences and attempt to paint the reality of disasters such as Harvey. You don’t get the full scope of the destruction and devastation from watching CNN or Fox NEWS. You get it from walking around on the streets and talking to the survivors. (Hear about their stories here.) You get the visual, but not the emotion. So maybe these words will help widen the picture.
At the end of July 2017, I left my small, quaint hometown in Connecticut to embark on a journey that would undoubtedly change my perspective, and consequently, my life. In a matter of 7 months, a team of eight other people and I, traveled to 7 different states to help FEMA in their disaster response and recovery initiatives. We went from Iowa, to Kansas and Missouri, to Mississippi, to Texas, to Florida and Puerto Rico, and eventually back to Texas- all in a 15 passenger van. Talk about a different kind of Vanlife. For me, it was a period of growth and discovery, both about the world around me and myself. I have doubts that I ever would have obtained the knowledge and intelligence I have now had I taken any other path in life, or had I not left school. The months I spent traveling the country at the expense of the program was some of the most infuriating, degrading, loneliest months of my life, and it’s still not over. But, with that being said, it most definitely had its roses.