FEMA Corps Member William Laplaca (right) works with two FEMA Specialists, Thomas Noeson (left) and Peter Hansen (center), to canvas a neighborhood impacted by Hurricane Ida.
FEMA Corps team lead David Boatwright has spent the last month with his team on the ground in Louisiana, helping with Hurricane Ida recovery efforts.
This team is one of many that exists through a partnership between FEMA and the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps. FEMA Corps is a team-based service program that gives 18‐26‐year‐old participants the opportunity to serve communities impacted by disaster while gaining professional development experience.
Boatwright says FEMA Corps appealed to him because he has always been interested in problem-solving and the work the agency does.
“That was a big part of my decision to do FEMA Corps versus traditional AmeriCorps,” he said. “Looking at the application, a lot of the experiences and requirements are things that I had already done in previous jobs. I felt it would be a good opportunity for me to further develop those leadership and problem-solving skills. And a good opportunity to get involved in something that matters.”
Boatwright began his service in March of this year. He and his team were assigned to a distribution center in Fort Worth, Texas. While there, they were responsible for preparing and organizing pallets, tarps, water, meals and everything that gets distributed after a large disaster. They helped to work through inventory and meet the requirements that allow the distribution center to keep running.
At the end of August, they were reassigned to provide disaster survivor assistance to those affected by Hurricane Ida in Louisiana. Boatwright said when they first arrived on September 1, they focused primarily on outreach and passing out flyers. Later, they worked at a mobile disaster recovery center to help register people for assistance, provide status updates and refer them to other types of assistance. Now they go door-to-door to provide this same assistance.
He said he has been surprised by how grateful many people are, even while facing a difficult time.
“The majority of the time, they’re very pleased that you’re out there,” Boatwright said. “They’re very happy to see you, happy to have you help them through whatever challenge they’re facing.”
Boatwright said there are two Spanish speakers on their team that have been a big help when the team encounters survivors who only speak Spanish.
“To be able to help those people in their language, without the use of the language line translator or some third party, to just be able to communicate directly with them has been a really valuable experience for my corps members,” Boatwright said. “We’ve found that when we can help people in their language, they are even more thrilled to have us there, because it’s such an uncertain time and to have someone there who can communicate so easily is not something they experience all the time.”
The team has also worked through their own challenges to make the most of their experiences. Boatwright says it helps to make friends with the people around you who are going through the same experience. As a team leader, Boatwright was also able to assign one of his members to the role of Service Learning Initiator, to help the team see the impact of what they’re doing.
“To be able to see that direct impact of your work is very powerful,” Boatwright said. “When the team is having a tough time, I ask that Service Learning Initiator to re-center them on why they’re here. And that’s been a big help throughout the last few months.”
FEMA Corps Member Edith Ramos prepares to help a survivor navigate the FEMA registration process.