Left to Right: Disaster Survivor Assistant Laprisha Brown, Disaster Survivor Assistant Monica Curtis and Disaster Survivor Assistant Lauren Graham.
Monica Curtis was working her shift at a Department Store when a customer, impressed by her knowledge, asked her if she had ever considered a different career path.
While Curtis was also working full-time as a teacher assistant, she admitted that with her kids grown, she would love to pursue a career that allowed her to travel. He recommended FEMA, where she could help people while traveling.
“I did my own investigation and decided that it was for me,” Curtis said. “I fought my fears and set off to reinvent myself.”
Little did she know, her choice would impact hundreds of people, including new FEMA recruits, disaster survivors and – most importantly – her three children.
Curtis now works as a disaster survivor assistant. She has spent the last six years traveling across the country to help those impacted by disasters.
“I am the first face of FEMA,” she said. “We are tasked with the hard job of going door to door, being boots on the ground. We are the first to come in contact with individuals that have in many cases lost everything.”
As a disaster survivor assistant, she works to capture information and communicate to leadership. She also provides information to survivors so they can better understand the relief available to them.
“We do our best to manage the survivor’s expectation by helping them understand the process,” she said. “We do this by using our core values of compassion, fairness, integrity and respect!”
Curtis says that she loves being in the service of others, as well as the team-centric aspect of it. She says she feels as though she is part of one giant family that travels around together, united by the common purpose of disaster recovery.
“I would have to say the highlight of all my deployments is having the privilege to lead the new faces in FEMA,” Curtis added. “I love watching them go from feeling inadequate and unsure of themselves, to being empowered and teaching, and proud of themselves! For me, this is the greatest part of it all. I love watching people transform. I have encouraged at least 28 people to come on board with FEMA.”
Some of those she recruited include her own children. While their mom found a new path in life, at first her children simply looked on with pride.
Her son, Lawrence Graham was working for a mortgage company.
“My mom was already working for FEMA at the time, and she saw how upset the job made me,” Graham said. “I didn’t necessarily think FEMA would be a good fit for me, but she pushed and pushed until I finally decided to give it a try.”
Graham said the experience has been life changing.
“FEMA has afforded me the opportunity to visit places that I never thought I would be able to go,” he said. “Because of FEMA I have now gotten to see our nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. I have gotten to see the St. Louis Arch in Missouri. I have gotten to walk the busy streets of New York, and I have gotten to take a bite out of a delicious Philly cheesesteak in Philly.”
Graham now works as a disaster survivor assistant specialist and is currently in Florida, along with his mom and sisters, to help those devastated by Hurricane Ian.
“Each deployment has been very unique and has taught me something new,” he said. “My mom always says that our day to day as a FEMA employee is to ‘fill a need.’ Whether that be registering a survivor or providing case updates and important next step information,. it’s important that we listen to what that need is and fill it.”
He says being able to help families who have lost everything has been a highlight for him. Seeing these survivors still able to keep a cheerful spirit has given him perspective in his own life and goals for the future.
Graham said he is grateful for the chance to work alongside his family, saying that it is an opportunity that most people never get to experience. Evidence of his mother’s influence at FEMA is also more apparent to him.
“She does not hesitate to lift up and promote those that need the slightest ounce of help,” Graham said. “If you ask around, all those that have come in contact with her, from crew members to supervisors have nothing but respect and appreciation for her. She goes above and beyond for the survivors, her crew and the mission. I truly believe that she is nothing short of a key asset for FEMA.”
One of Curtis’s daughters, Laprisha Brown was running a residential and commercial cleaning company when her mom began traveling and helping disaster survivors.
“I was happy for her,” Brown said. “But it wasn’t until I got a call from my little sister on her very first deployment, heard the excitement in her voice and saw how much of a burden was lifted from her by knowing she could help people in need and still come home to my nephew and feel whole each time.”
She says she loves seeing people’s reactions to finding out her mom and siblings all work for FEMA. She also loves being able to pick her mom’s brain for the best guidance, which she says is always the FEMA way first, followed by “but as your mother.”
No one loves their ability to all work for the FEMA mission more than Curtis.
“I’m so proud of my family!” she said. “We are on one mission to help survivors. When people are suffering and at their lowest points, they need compassionate, respectful individuals that will do what they are trained to do. They need my family.”