JOPLIN, Mo. —
Mariah Hutchinson, a 2012 graduate of Joplin High School, was inducted on Thursday into the nation’s first class of the FEMA Corps, a partnership between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
“It was very exciting for me,” Hutchinson said by telephone Saturday of the induction ceremony, which took place in Vicksburg, Miss.
FEMA Corps, a new unit within the existing AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, is designed to enhance disaster response and recovery. Its members are young adults, ages 18 to 24, who devote 10 months of full-time service to the organization. After completing 1,700 hours of service, they will receive a $5,550 award to use for college tuition or student loans.
Hutchinson was the only member of the 240-person class to speak at a press conference Thursday announcing the inductees, where she said she received a standing ovation. She spoke of what had prompted her to join the organization in the first place — seeing AmeriCorps members assisting in Joplin following the May 22, 2011, tornado.
“I want to give back to other communities like they have done for me,” she said in her prepared remarks. “When everything was gone, and I felt like I had nothing left, people were there, giving me hope, confidence and faith that everything will be OK. They were giving up their personal time to be that one smile, that one person, that one positive thing not only to make a difference, but to leave an everlasting impact. I want to be that person for someone else.”
The federal government declared a record 99 disasters in 2011, and FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino developed FEMA Corps following the EF-5 tornado that devastated Joplin.
“The work that you are going to do is absolutely critical, absolutely essential to help the survivors,” Serino told FEMA Corps inductees Thursday.
The induction ceremony marked the end of one month of training for FEMA Corps members through AmeriCorps. Hutchinson and her peers on Saturday were at the Fort McClellan Disaster Preparedness Center in Anniston, Ala., preparing to begin two weeks of FEMA training specific to their assigned positions.
Hutchinson said she will receive training to become a community relations specialist, and will be among the first FEMA Corps members to arrive in an area after a disaster has struck.
“We will be the people who go door-to-door and ask people what they need and how we can help and basically try to point them to the right direction to get them help,” she said. “It’s a lot of assessing and being the first eyes and ears that they see when they do need help.”
Hutchinson said she was placed in the community relations specialty, her first choice, based on her experiences in Joplin after the tornado.
“I worked in the disaster recovery center at Ignite Church and did a lot of one-on-one work with disaster survivors there,” she said. “Basically, I just did a lot of helping in Joplin, and I realized that’s what I love doing.”
Training will wrap up by Sept. 30, at which point FEMA Corps members will be deployed to their first assignments to assist FEMA’s existing work force in areas affected by disaster.
“It’s all moving really fast,” Hutchinson said. “I’m very ready. I’m very excited.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Members of FEMA Corps will be based at one of five AmeriCorps campuses across the country: Sacramento, Calif.; Denver, Colo.; Vinton, Iowa; Perry Point, Md.; and Vicksburg, Miss.