Monday, October 14, 2013

Fun in Colorado!

At the end of last round, I was loudly and boldly proclaiming that I never wanted to stay in a hotel room again, and I think God (with his excellent sense of humor) heard my prayer. Our housing on this disaster has been, well, interesting. Initially we were staying in dorm rooms on campus which was great until they kicked us out in order to fumigate the building. I guess there was a bed bug issue... Next we moved to the Boulder County fairgrounds. We slept on cots and thought we were roughing it. My mom said, "Sam! You're so tough!" Little did we know, they were saving the best for last: an abandoned Big Box store complete with no windows, no showers, 80 other inhabitants, cots, pallets, fluorescent lights (half of which stay on at night), and a leaky roof. It is not ideal, but in typical fashion we make the most of it and have kept a sense of humor.
 3 am, I kid you not
 Raining inside
Making it homey with some pallet bookshelves/walls

On any given day there is roller-blading, skateboarding, roller derby, floor hockey, football, and softball. It is basically a giant sleepover and something I don't think I'll ever forget. Here's to the next four weeks here!

Work in Colorado!

I don't think it's any secret that I have enjoyed the beauty that is Colorado during the time I've spent here in training and transition. These darn mountains astound me every time I catch a glimpse of them!
When I found out that we would be spending our final round here in Colorado, helping survivors of the historic floods, I was thrilled. Not only would I get to spend more time here, my team would be busy working on a active disaster and all of my friends' teams were stationed here as well.

It is hard to sum up everything that has happened this round into a brief, readable blog post, but here goes:

Day one: assembling information on local response to distribute to teams working in the field
Day two: registering survivors from the town of Lyons as soon as they disembarked from their helicopter, mandatory evacuation
Days three - seven: registering people as they wait in line at a shelter for temporary passes into Lyons so they can assess their property and get as much of it out of the town as possible
Weeks two - four: canvassing neighborhoods in various affected communities in the foothills, mountains, and Denver area

The work was certainly busy and rewarding at first, but it has been slowing down significantly, so I am eager to see what they have us do next.


September brought two weeks of much needed vacation time. It was great seeing family and friends in Wisconsin and spending time with Logan in Omaha.
 We won medals in a 5K! Yes those are matching headbands
 The Omaha Zoo and Aquarium

Grilling and homemade cheese curds! Yum!
Okay, maybe this one isn't a highlight, but it was memorable. I had to get stitches after a minor bike fall. I was a little scratched and banged up for a few days...

After the break, I felt refreshed and ready to sprint towards graduation which will be taking place on November 20th. I can't believe how fast the end approaches, and I can't wait to see what's next!

Friday, August 30, 2013

New York, New York!

As I was working in Long Island for a month this summer, I took advantage of my proximity to the city during the weekends. We drove to Queens, then took the subway to get into Manhattan and around the city. I enjoyed seeing all the sites, but I'll still have to go back someday to catch a Broadway show.
NBC Studios, Rockefeller Plaza
Times Square
View of Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry
Statue of Liberty

 Beautiful Central Park
One Saturday in Staten Island my team helped build an entire playground with KaBOOM! (Just like on Parks and Rec!) This was a highlight of the program for me thus far. We worked hard and got very dirty and sweaty, but it was so. much. fun. and now the children of this Staten Island community which was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy can have a safe and awesome place to enjoy themselves.
Raking tons of mulch at the playground build
I am so grateful that I have had so many opportunities to see the country and participate in such a variety of service over these last seven months. Only three months to go!

Long Island!

When we left Oklahoma City in July (with about 12 hours of notice) we thought we were headed to assist disaster survivors in the Albany area, but during our trek across the county, we were reassigned to Long Island to work on a hazard mitigation project. This assignment has proved to be one of my favorites of this program so far.

Each day as I did my work in the community of Long Beach, New York, I caught glimpses of the ocean beyond the apartment buildings, condominiums, and homes which we inspected. I could smell it and feel its salty breeze. After weeks of this, my coworker and I finally decided to take our lunch break on the beach. I was incredibly thankful that I was able to splash in the shallow waves in the middle of a work week. If it wasn’t for AmeriCorps I almost certainly would not have stood in the ocean this month. After wading around for a while, I spoke with a couple who live in Long Beach and were enjoying the beautiful day. It was a powerful moment as they told us about their community’s experience with Super Storm Sandy and that same ocean’s power which devastated the area. This remarkable water is both beautiful and hazardous. I am impressed by the tenacity of the locals who refuse to abandon their beautiful community in spite of the risk. Once again, I was moved by the incredible power of nature and of the human spirit.

 At the beach over my lunch break
Enjoying the beach with some friends and teammates

Long Island is quite the place and I enjoyed experiencing a bit of the LI culture (accents anyone?). I saw the Amityville Horror house, took the Subway in Queens, spent hours at the lovely beaches, and partook in my first "Shark Week" (did you know Jaws was partially based on a record-sized Great White caught off of Long Island?!).

Thursday, July 18, 2013


On June 24th, my team arrived in Oklahoma City in order to respond to the recent tornadoes, severe storms, and flooding. As many of you likely saw on the news, there were three singnificant tornados during the month of May that left Moore, Shawnee, and El Reno Oklahoma painfully aware of the power of nature. The devestation I saw was intense and hard to express. I walked down streets with piles of rubble on one end, half ripped-apart homes in the middle, and barely scathed houses just blocks away. The stories I heard were terrifying, tragic, and touching.

Exposure to these disasters has left me with a strong impression of the power of the human spirit. Humans survive. People in Joplin, Illinois, Oklahoma, and New York are picking up the pieces of their lives each day. They live with memories of the horror, but they refuse to be conquered by them. They come out of their homes to thank us; they shake our hands in convenience stores. They certainly mourn for what they lost, but they are all the more thankful for what they have. They teach me about grace and hope each day.

 This is a strip mall that the Moore tornado ripped through very close to the neighborhood where I worked.  
This deployment also featured some unique housing situations. One week we slept on cots in a homeless shelter's gymnasium. Then we were in a hotel for a couple of nights before moving to a fancy apartment building (A kitchen! My own bed!).
Finally, I was blessed by another (!) visit from Logan over the Fourth of July weekend. So thankful for some days off and a best friend to spend it with! For future reference, however, Oklahoma City isn't our first choice for vacation destination...

Because our teams in Oklahoma did such an efficient job, we finished the job before our deadline. This meant that I sorted donations for a few days before we were called up to another deployment. Because of that experience, i feel like i need to ask this of anyone who might be reading: when a disaster hits and you want to help, please don't send "stuff". The in-kind donations are all stored in a warehouse and require manpower, rent, utilities, etc. Oftentimes, the donations aren't exactly what is needed which leads to inefficiencies and challenges for FEMA and the non-profits on the ground. Instead, give monetary donations to the Red Cross or another reputable organization that is involved. Thanks!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Denver Again!

After about a month in Illinois, my lovely team headed back to Denver for a week of transition. It has been great hanging out with friends from other teams, enjoying the mountain views, and taking some time to reflect and look forward.  It has been hot here and a bit smokey, but I love Denver and am happy to be here for a bit.
 The amazing sky (why is God so freakin good!?!)
 With friends downtown during Denver's Pride Fest
As we head to Oklahoma this coming Sunday, my team will be significantly smaller than when we started out in February. We already miss Jennifer, Ethan, and Laisa so much but wish them the best! This program isn't for everyone. A year of service is hard; working for the government is hard; living with eight diverse individuals is hard. But the rest of us are in it to win it. I love my team!!

Follow us on Twitter @T4Corps

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Over Memorial Day weekend, I was blessed by two days off and a visit from my boyfriend, Logan. We did many of the touristy Chicago activities and certainly enjoyed our time together.

View from the John Hancock Building
The "Bean" in Millenium Park
At the Field Museum

At Wrigley Field

We took public transit and walked a lot - much appreciated when work involves riding in a car for six or so hours a day! It was great to finally get to see the city from somewhere other than the freeway.

I have to keep counting my blessings and remembering the many benefits of this Americorps program, one of which is the opportunity to travel and visit so many places #perspective

 Thanks to Logan for making the trip!

Monday, May 27, 2013


On the 10th of May, the President signed a federal disaster declaration for several counties in the state of Illinois. Three days later, my team piled into our vans and headed north to Chicago eager to finally put all of our training to use.

During the month of April, many parts of Illinois were inundated with heavy rainfall and flooding. Our task is to canvass effected neighborhoods and help people get registered for federal assistance. The challenge is that this is a massive area with a massive number of workers employed by a massive entity. And we're implementing a new program. And Americorps hasn't worked out all the kinks yet. In a word, I've been frustrated, but I'm trying to stay positive.

Do I feel like I've helped some people? Yes. Do I feel like this is my calling? Not really.

I am confident that even challenging situations can teach a person and can be essential and beneficial. I am learning things about myself that will hopefully lead me to a calling and make me better prepared for that work once I find it.

This program is hard. It is harder than I expected in different ways than I expected. There are days when I question what good I am doing even being here, but...

There has to be a But. I would love prayers as I try to find the But during the next several weeks and months.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


So I'm living in Texas now! It is hot here, but I am enjoying it. My team lives on a camp that overlooks the gorgeous (and huge) Lewisville Lake, so our evenings and weekends are thoroughly enjoyed. I'd choose sleeping in bunk beds, grilling all our meals, and running around in the outdoors over a hotel any day! 

Training and work have been slow which is frustrating for me. I left Wisconsin in February hoping that I wouldn't be sitting around purposeless and bored anymore, but I don't think that I'm accomplishing much in this program either unfortunately.

During this rough patch, though, my team has been a huge encouragement as we try to keep each other sane.
 Late-night, last minute photo op with the Joplin sign
Barely holding onto our sanity in the van
At the Cinco de Mayo festival in Denton.

I don't know what I would do without them!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Flexible from the "F" to the second "E"

If I had to compile some character traits that are needed for success in this program, flexibility would be very near the top of that list. Plans change frequently, and living arrangements often demand adaptation.

This all was reinforced again this week when my team found out that we will be leaving Joplin more than a month earlier than scheduled. Wednesday we received news that we would be transferred to Denton, Texas for a week of additional training. We drive out on Saturday morning.

After next week, my team will likely be sent to a yet unknown location. That's how late notices are; that's how quickly things change; that's how flexible we need to be. But, honestly, that's what is so incredible about my life right now.

During the last three months, I've lived in three different states. I've learned CPR, bought cowboy boots, worshipped God in three different churches, joined a gym, pierced my ears, and visited two National Parks!

 Hiking in Boulder, CO
 Shoal Creek in Southwestern Missouri
In Southern New Mexico with my teammate Angie

The thing is, all the adventures out there are worth giving up a little stability. Sometimes it is frustrating (like when i'm trying to plan a Memorial Day trip but can't buy a ticket until I know where I'll be). But ultimately, flexibility leaves me open to whatever God wants me experience, and why would I ever choose stability over a full and exciting life?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Joplin, Missouri!

My team's first assignment is Joplin, Missouri. You may remember that Joplin was hit by a devestating EF5 tornado in May of 2011. Thousands of homes, the high school, businesses, and a hospital were destroyed and 161 people were killed in the storm.

The community of Joplin has rebuilt much, but there is still evidence of the storm throughout the city. My team is here to wrap up the temporary housing program that gave people a place to live while they rebuilt their homes and lives.

We are thrilled to be here and I am humbled by both the power of the storm that ripped through this place and by the human spirit so evident in this community and their efforts to rebuild.

New Mexico!

Because four weeks of training in Denver wasn't enough, I headed down to the New Mexico desert for two more weeks. I have no pictures from those weeks because we were on a federal facility that did not permit any photos. They also enforced curfews and dress codes. It was certainly an interesting experience.

Training was pretty intensive, with eight hour days and only one day off. I am so thankful to finally be done with training and heading out to begin work!

My Team!

It was a crazy process, but I am now a proud member of the team Tundra 4!

My position is Community Relations (CR) which is essentially a three-part job. When a natural or man-made disaster gets a Presidential declaration, CR teams deploy immediately to assess the situation in the community, interview community members, inform survivors how to register for assistance, and report on our findings so that resources can be allocated effectively.

The best part is my lovely teammates who crack me up and teach me things every day.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Right now, I am living on a college campus in Denver with around 180 other 18-24 year olds. We are training here until mid March for our year of service. Here are some fun things I've gotten to do thusfar:

> Went to Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater
> Headed downtown, 16th Street Mall, etc.
> Read some of my poems at the Mercury Cafe's poetry reading
> Dungeons and Dragons
> Trained to drive a 15 passenger van
> Was issued uniforms
> Visited Lookout Mountain where Buffalo Bill is buried
> Making new friends
> Lots of public transit

This Friday I will be assigned to a team and job which I will have for the rest of the year. I cannot wait!


At any point, if you'd like to check out pictures of what I'm up to, click on the "My Flickr" link on the right side of the blog. Enjoy!


On February 11th, I boarded a plane at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport with one checked bag, a backpack, and a pillow. This was the beginning of my new adventure. For the next ten months, I will be living out of a suitcase, traveling in a 15-passenger van, and working in several different communities around the United States. This is a year of service and simple living. I hope to learn and grow a lot and to experience many new things.