FEMA Celebrates AmeriCorps Week

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AmeriCorps week, observed March 13-19, is a great time to celebrate those who have dedicated time and energy serving communities across the country. From rebuilding homes affected by natural disasters to supporting education initiatives for underserved youth, AmeriCorps members get things done. FEMA is a proud partner of AmeriCorps.

To celebrate AmeriCorps Week, FEMA asked a few of our staff members who are AmeriCorps alumni, to share their experiences on how their service in AmeriCorps has prepared them for their role at FEMA.  

FEMA Corps Liaison Nyjeer Wesley

FEMA Corps Liaison Nyjeer Wesley
FEMA Corps Liaison Nyjeer Wesley

During my term of service with FEMA Corps, I learned so much from the program. I was able to work directly with FEMA staff as I learned the FEMA structure, systems and applications which helped provide a seamless transition when I become an employee. I also had the opportunity to serve diverse communities during disasters which helped enrich my cultural competence. Lastly, I was able to further develop my problem-solving skills and become solution oriented when faced with challenges. Overall, saying I learned a lot from my experience is an understatement. 

The skills I learned throughout the FEMA Corps program have not only helped me progress within my career but also in my personal life. I’m truly grateful for the opportunities that were provided for me during my term of service and for the great people I was able to meet. 

Office of External Affairs Junior Advisor Leah Schachman

Junior Advisor Leah Schachman stands in front of the FEMA sign at HQ.
Junior Advisor Leah Schachman stands in front of the FEMA sign at HQ.

After my year with FEMA Corps, I relocated to the Washington D.C. area and I I currently work at FEMA HQ in the Office of External Affairs. My time as a team leader in FEMA Corps started off with training at the Pacific Campus in Sacramento, California. From there my team’s first deployment was to Washington, D.C. to work with the Office of External Affairs in the Disaster Operations division. 

We were pulled to make our way to Florida to assist with Hurricane Ian recovery where we started off in Tallahassee. There we worked with the planning team out of the Florida Emergency Operations Center. Once it was safe to travel towards the heavily affected areas, we embarked on Disaster Survivor Assistance (DSA) work where we were boots on the ground. We went door to door alongside FEMA reservists, to ensure that the community members affected by the hurricane were aware of the resources available to them as well as were getting registered for FEMA assistance.

Woman knocking on a door.
Schachman went door-to-door as part of her DSA deployment in Florida responding to Hurricane Ian.

Shortly after I went to take over another team that was in Puerto Rico. The team was dispersed across many focus areas including Public Assistance (PA), Individual Assistance (IA) and Environmental Historic Preservation (EHP). 

The service I did during my time as a Team Leader for FEMA Corps plays a huge role in what I do at FEMA today. It made me familiar with the emergency management world and all the things that FEMA does before, during and after disasters. My time serving with FEMA Corps prepared me for what to expect both during an activation as well as during steady state work. Once I joined FEMA as a Junior Advisor for the Office of External Affairs, I felt confident enough to step in and help where I could because of the experiences and opportunities I had during my service year. 

Senior Deployment Specialist Karen Shatin

Senior Deployment Specialist Karen Shatin in a foodbank.
Shatin continues service past her AmeriCorps experience by volunteering at a local D.C. food bank. 

I served in AmeriCorps for City Year in Boston from 2001-2002. My AmeriCorps service taught me to work with diverse teams, to value that diversity and to continue to commit to service. 

I actively seek out different perspectives and work to make sure that everyone has a voice. While I was involved in community service prior to AmeriCorps/City Year, the commitment to service has lasted well beyond my service year. I continue to seek out opportunities to serve on an ad-hoc basis, have served on the City Year DC Alumni Board and currently serve as the Professional Development Chair for the National Service Alumni Federal Employee Resources Group (NSA FERG).

Program Support Specialist Nikki Fujimoto

Program Support Specialist Nikki Fujimoto
Fujimoto at the Vicksburg, Mississippi, AmeriCorps Campus after receiving the AmeriCorps Member of the Year Award. 

I served on five projects during my service year in FEMA Corps. For Round 1, my team worked with the Civil Rights Cadre in Region 4 to ensure equitable access to and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in Atlanta. Round 2 brought us to FEMA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where we assisted the Insurance & Mitigation Readiness Division with reviewing and editing content for Hazard Mitigation courses. Round 3 was the first time my team and I experienced working in the fast-paced environment of an active disaster. We were deployed to the Joint Field Office (JFO) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to help with Hurricane Ida response and worked in the Planning Section. Our Round 4 was split between projects in Fairfield, New Jersey and Philadelphia. In Fairfield, we worked with the American Red Cross on youth preparedness programs. In Philadelphia, we supported Region 3 and community partners at the Dr. Ala Stanford Center for Health Equity and the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium in their mission to bring COVID testing and vaccination directly to underserved communities.

Program Support Specialist Nikki Fujimoto
Fujimoto coordinated resources as part of her work responding to COVID-19. 

The impact that my year of service has had on my career in FEMA is immeasurable. Simply put, I would not be working in FEMA today without my year in FEMA Corps. During my service year, I had so many opportunities to learn about disaster response, develop as a young professional, network and fast-track into employment at FEMA. I never would have had access to these opportunities without the FEMA Corps program.

However, I also view service as a life-long mindset which goes beyond the duration of my time in FEMA Corps. Service informs how I choose my work and how I act daily; it will always be my goal to help and be of service to people. In my steady state work, I support a team that ensures the agency is postured to be able to deliver responders with the right skills to the right place at the right time. My Planning Specialist IM title allows me to contribute to disaster response efforts directly. In both roles, I feel that I am either helping people directly, building capacity to help people or setting up the necessary conditions for people to be helped. Service, in my opinion, is inextricably linked with the mission set of the emergency manager. 

This is my favorite part about working at FEMA; no matter what role we fill, FEMA employees’ commitment to service and the mission are what unites and motivates us all.

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