The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 13, 2012

AmeriCorps crews continue tireless work in Joplin's tornado recovery

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni

JOPLIN, Mo. — A dry-erase calendar on the wall near Andy Pak’s desk speaks to the organizational skills he is using to aid Joplin’s recovery.

Blue ink indicates the number of skilled volunteers he’s coordinating.

Green ink indicates unskilled volunteers.

Black represents the total number of volunteers working each day for Rebuild Joplin. This week alone, that total is 2,298 people.

Pak, 18, belongs to the National Civilian Community Corps, a division of AmeriCorps. The group on Wednesday announced a three-year commitment to fund the ongoing rebuilding in Joplin.

Pak spends his days taking phone calls from groups interested in volunteering in Joplin, organizing orientations for the groups when they arrive, and maintaining a database with contact information, details about particular skills, and a roster of which work site the groups will be assigned to and when.

While the Fairfax, Va., native said he’ll be taking home much more than he came with — independence, responsibility, discipline, maturity, a broader worldview — he downplays his role in Joplin’s recovery.

“There are others on my AmeriCorps team out at home sites doing the real work,” Pak said Wednesday morning after completing an orientation for 50 volunteers from O’Fallon.

Amanda Bilke, volunteer manager for Rebuild Joplin, sees it a different way. She said every AmeriCorps member is vital to recovery.

“We love the teams,” she said. “But we need them longer.”

Pak’s team arrived four weeks ago and will depart in mid-July. It is one of four, six- to eight-week rotations each NCCC team completes across the United States in areas of disaster recovery, nonprofit work or assistance to low-income people.

“Being in a community impacted by disaster, there is just so much optimism, dedication of volunteers, a way to really serve,” Pak said. “It makes you feel better about humanity.”

The team

He and his team members are paid $150 every two weeks and are provided housing at the First United Methodist Church, as well as food, while they are in Joplin.

His team includes Henry Woodard, a 19-year-old native of Waterbury, Vt., who is the site supervisor at a home rebuilding project at 2006 S. Pennsylvania Ave.

On Wednesday, Woodard worked with volunteers from a church in Illinois. He helped them work through challenges associated with rebuilding an aging home. Next week, they’ll move inside to gut four rooms.

Pak’s team also includes Jalisha Richmond, 23, of Durham, N.C. After graduating with a degree in chemistry from Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., she applied to AmeriCorps because she likes “people more than white rooms.”

She spends her days in Joplin driving a box truck between work sites and Home Depot to pick out, purchase and deliver supplies as requested by site supervisors.

Jen Scharps, 24, of Boynton Beach, Fla., is the leader of Pak’s team. She holds a degree in English literature from Florida State University, but on Wednesday she divided her day between tasks associated with rebuilding a home at 2328 S. Willard Ave. and ensuring that her team members have what they need to be successful. That included taking one on an emergency trip to a dentist.

“There is no typical day here in Joplin,” she said. “Every day is a challenge, but a challenge that will stick with me the rest of my life.”

More than 350 AmeriCorps members have responded to Joplin in the wake of the May 2011 tornado to provide vital services and coordinate more than 75,000 volunteers. The first crews arrived within hours of the storm.

A year later, more than 25 AmeriCorps members are currently serving in Joplin. They are assisting with home building and repairs, offering legal services to low-income families, providing support to students in Joplin public schools, and managing volunteers, donations and homeowner requests.

FEMA Corps

THE EXPERIENCE of AmeriCorps crews in Joplin helped spur the development of FEMA Corps, a new, 1,600-member unit with members who will be devoted solely to disaster response and recovery efforts.