Emergency Response Team

Welcome to 2015


by Sarah Wood Our crew of five sat in a circle in the sun, enjoying our lunch break on the Ted Jones Trail. We had spent the morning felling hazard trees from the side of the path, ensuring the safety of pedestrians and preventing future clean up by park staff. As we chatted and snacked, an elderly man approached our group. Other walkers on the trail had asked about our work or our organization, but this man had alternative commentary.

"I never seen a woman on a tree crew before!"

I looked at the other woman on our team and smiled at the man.

"Well, there are two of us!"

The man looked confused.

"Do you own the company or something?"

He couldn't believe that two women could use chainsaws, and we proved otherwise. It's nice to know that in addition to removing invasive species and snags, AmeriCorps St. Louis is also removing something else: stereotypes.

Sarah and Natalie crushing stereotypes. Photo by Sarah Wood

Seeing The Results


by Carrie Stephen In ERT, we serve on a lot of very important projects. But often times, we give our time and work hard, but we don't necessarily get to see the benefits or results of what we have done. We may build a fireline, but never see the burn. Or we may burn an area, but the results take many years to see. We may restore a glade, and although we can see the canopy open up, we don't necessarily get to see the grasses slowly come back. We may spray invasives encroaching along the highways, but unless you are sent back to the next zone the following year, you don't usually get to see them disappear.

This past month, my team worked on woodland restoration in Forest Park, which does give a bit of a peak into results. As we thin the forest, the floor slowly lets more light in, and it's easy to see the difference. Although the grasses and wildflowers will take longer to return, it's good to know they will have what they need. Even more satisfying than watching this canopy open up to the sky, we spent a few days installing some check dams at a site that was experiencing some heavy water erosion during rainfall.

We worked very hard the first two days, as there was a storm predicted for that week. We didn't finish installing all of our check dams before the storm hit, but we installed enough that we could see how they had faired in the weather. The day after the storm, we wandered up the hill, and behold, there behind our logs set in the ground, we could see sediment that had settled instead of washing down. One of the check dams even had a pool of water behind it, demonstrating for us that the water did slow down enough to keep the erosion at bay. It was a pretty exciting day, and with the knowledge that our hard work was paying off, we eagerly installed the remaining check dams. The finished result? A beauty to behold.

Photo by Carrie Stephen

Saying Goodbye For Now

by Brittany Merriman The day had finally come: our first disaster team was set to leave from headquarters on a month-long deployment.

As I stood in the large office, watching those who were to be left behind give the departing team exuberant well-wishes, I thought of how far we'd come: a group of young adults who were by and large complete strangers less than 3 months ago were now saying goodbye to each other the way old friends often do. Contrasted with the slightly awkward yet puppy-sincere greetings we had given each other the first days we'd met, the current heart-felt goodbyes going on around me was even more notable.

One team leader presented the leaving group with a loaf of homemade bread, and jokes were made about holiday care-packages ("We're sending you turkey and cranberry MRE's and nothing else" and "I swear I'll include at least two bags of peppermint patties, you fiend!").

The sincerity of the hugs exchanged was heartening. I myself happily chimed in a few "You're going to do wonderfully" and "Please don't forget to send me updates!" to my newest set of friends, and all around the room the sentiments were echoed independently and without irony. What struck me the most, however, was that although we were undoubtedly parting ways with friends, the atmosphere was not sad, but far from it: the room had the encouraging feeling of friends building each other up before a grand adventure.

As the team was given a final wave-off, I thought that certainly the short span of time in which our friendships had been forged and the brightness with which they burned meant that this team had become more than simple friends: the months of living, working, playing, and learning together had made us nothing less than a family.

Checking In From SC

by Amital Orzech My month started with spraying chemicals on the side of obscure highways in South East Missouri. The highlight being when we found an enormous patch of knapweed and were able to empty all three gallons of chemical we each carried on our backs onto the invasive plants. Our team’s project objective changed when we were asked to go to South Carolina to help out with disaster recovery in response to the flooding that occurred in October. We went into the project understanding that it would be a lot of office work; however we didn’t know exactly what we would be doing until we arrived at the Joint Field Office (JFO) in South Carolina.

After Bruce wrangled our way through Security and got us approval to even be in the building, we were immediately put to work taking over the jobs of a FEMACorps team that was on their way out of the JFO. We took an idea they called Fast Track and within the course of one week turned their idea into a full-fledged process that utilizes an online database, Crisis Cleanup, to identify damaged homes and connect homeowners in need of repairs with volunteer agencies who are able to make them. Within the course of two weeks we have managed to contact major players in disaster recovery such as Red Cross and Salvation Army, who have agreed to work with us on Fast Track and are already sending us case referrals to add to the online database.

What I’ve liked about this project so far is that it seems to embody what we in ERT are taught from day one of orientation: that a disaster begins and ends within the community. This process, Fast Track, allows home damage reports to be logged on Crisis Cleanup by volunteer agencies within the community, and the cases are then adopted by organizations that have the ability to make the repairs.

Moving forward, the challenge will be getting the volunteer agencies to adopt cases and start making repairs as we get closer to winter and the temperature drops. Hopefully as our team continues to make connections within the counties, these ‘adoptions’ will start to pick up.

It’s been pretty incredible, talking to people within the community who have been affected by the flood. Whether a person has been on the receiving end or the providing end of aid, everyone seems to be tirelessly invested in the recovery process.

First Day of School


by Tiara Johnson  

The morning of September 21st was reminiscent of the first day of school. As a fresh group of 30 First Years trickled through the ERTHQ doors, we sat anxiously at the tables having the same conversation over and over again… Where are you from? What did you do before this? Why did you join the program? Kathleen proceeded to break up the day’s presentations with “1 Minute Stories” – an elevator pitch of sorts where we attempted to describe ourselves under the heat of the clock.

By the end of the week, I was able to rattle off everyone’s name, where they lived, and where they came from. At that point I knew we had a diverse crew hailing from East Coast to West Coast and even abroad coming to St. Louis, some from fresh out of high school and others years on the job. Some came for career prospects; others came for a new adventure. All these new facts about my team members intrigued me. However, I realized that I did not really know that much about everyone… I knew just the tip of the iceberg.

It wasn’t until Montana that it all got real... Once we got on the road , everyone set down their guards and slowly shared themselves. We got to know the real side of each other through intellectual conversations about everything from renewable energy, human rights, religion, and politics on the 3-day car ride to yelling Irish Gigs at the top of our lungs as we attempted to beat sunset on the trail to talks about alien life and bears by the campfire. My teammates also taught me new things. In the first week I learned how to identify trees, how to use martial art moves to take down an opponent with just a handshake, and more about hidden values of Buddhism. Perhaps the most memorable (due to frequency) were my numerous conversations about poop.

After just one week in such close proximity, it became clearly evident that we will get to know more about each other over the next 10 months than I know about some of my dear friends. We will serve together, cry together, and most importantly laugh together.


Photo by Tiara Johnson

First Two Weeks in ERT

by Dan Faris  

The first two weeks of ERT can only be described as a whirlwind. Traveling to a new city, meeting all new people, learning about the program, and riding out to Montana have made this an eventful period of time. This program is unlike any other program I've been in. Everyone here is so accomplished and brings a unique skill set to the team. This almost feels like an AmeriCorps All-star team. I've already made some pretty good friends and look forward to getting to know other people more. I look forward to working with everyone in the upcoming year.

Traveling and serving in Montana has also been an amazing experience. Montana is so beautiful and very different from where I grew up in New Jersey. Here, you can look out for miles and miles and not see one sign of human life. I have enjoyed my time hiking mountains and being out in the woods so far. New Jersey was much too crowded for my liking so it is nice to be out here with space and fresh air.

Going through all the ERT trainings so far has gotten me very excited about the year to come. I cannot wait to get out there and start doing things. I know this year will have many ups and downs and will be full of surprises but I believe I have the fortitude to survive in this program. There will be times that I have to rely on my teammates to get me through but in return I am willing and ready to lend a hand right back. Together we are strong and can accomplish our goals.

An Unexpected Offering


by Alex Smith


On the way up to Montana we were stopped at a gas station to fill up the convoy. While a couple of us were standing around, a gentleman came up and began to talk to us. He was a local pastor and wanted to thank us for all the wonderful work we were doing and appreciated the effort we were putting in. He joked with us and talked with us for a few minutes, said he would pray for us and we'd be in his thoughts, and went back to his car. At this point, we hadn't done any work. We had just been learning in classrooms and driving. But the program itself is what he was talking about, and he wanted to thank us because of the great history of service that the St. Louis ERT has. Even though we hadn't accomplished anything of our own yet, we all felt incredibly honored and privileged to be a part of a program that receives such positive praise and admiration from people in the local area and surrounding states. For me, at least, that meeting filled me with resolve and pride in what I was doing, and strengthened my determination to give the upcoming weeks in Montana my all.

Alex In Montana

First Time Camping


by Emily Jack


On the night of September 28th, I had my first big Montana adventure-camping! Believe it or not, this was my first time ever sleeping outside in a tent...and it was quite an experience to say the least. As we sat around the fire at Fleecer Cabin, making S'mores and listening to Bruce's stories, I excitedly told anyone who would listen about how my parents never wanted to take my younger brother and myself camping as children; how they refused to view sleeping on the ground for a week with no amenities as a vacation-thus depriving me of what I had always seen as an essential rite of growing up. All of my friends went camping with their families, so it couldn't have been that bad right? Well, as I laid down in my sleeping bag a few hours later, clad only in two layers (long underwear with PJ's on top) I all at once came to the decision that perhaps they had been onto something. I was fairly comfortable on my blow up sleeping mat and mummy bag, but my naturally cold body temperature combined with the frosty 20 degree Montana night made sleeping impossible. I could not get myself to warm up at all, my attempt at throwing a blanket on top of my face resulted in the condensation from my breath freezing over and sticking to it, and I was so frigid that I did not want to give up what little protection my sleeping bag was giving me to throw on more clothes. Needless to say, the next morning I crawled out of my tent, bleary eyed and wondering why I didn't listen to my parents.

As the days went on, and some of the older members of the Corps learned of my struggle, I was gifted with advice, tips (and even a sleeping bag liner!) on how to keep warm in a tent. I began to wear more layers of clothing, including hats, gloves and even winter jackets, was shown how to better insulate my tent, and even experimented with a homemade solar panel. (It didn't really work, but I was proud of my innovation!) In the end, I grew to enjoy the simplicity of living in nature, and the peaceful quiet that comes along with camping. That night was my very first challenge, and I am proud of myself for sticking it out. I know that there will be many more trying experiences throughout this year, and I now feel as if I am much better prepared for them, all because of one night in a tent. After all of this, I am both nervous and excited to see what the future in this program holds for me.

Tents At Fleecer

Contingency Plans


by: Paul Lewis At this point in my service, things tend to run pretty smoothly. Everyone knows what to do and how to get things done. Teams are efficient and no project or task seems to catch us off guard or unprepared. This month, however, one variable proved to remain inconsistent: the weather. Some days were gorgeous and sunny with temperatures allowing (and necessitating) the team to toil in short sleeves. Other days brought bitter cold, wind, clouds and plenty of precipitation. It was this precipitation, snow in particular, which provided my team with the opportunity to be great. We were serving at a site that was a long drive from our housing. Much of the trip was on hilly, curvy, back-roads and the trek finished with a 30-minute hike. During one day of service, snow began to fall in the morning.

Being a light snowfall and having only just lighted off a number of burn piles, the idea of leaving early to beat the snow never even crossed our minds. When the end of the day arrived, the ground was covered in a beautiful layer of snow a few inches deep. As we began our treacherous hike to the truck, our minds began playing out scenarios of being stuck in the field where we had parked or sliding off of the road on our drive back. Miraculously, the truck (NOT a 4-wheel-drive vehicle) got us out of the field and to the road without any issues.

This road, however, would prove to be the biggest test. While trying to navigate the winding road, we hit a hill with far less momentum than needed and proceeded to lose all traction on the icy pavement. Not wanting to be stuck in the cold snow for the evening, the team immediately went to work scraping ice from the road in front of the tires and finding twigs to place down for traction. This worked, but we were not able to get enough speed to carry us up the hill and we were once again stuck. This time we worked feverishly to scrape out paths for the tires all the way to the crest of the hill and once again found sticks to help get us going. With great relief, the truck crested the hill and continued on to the main highway. Unfortunately, this had not been plowed or sanded. Considering the daunting hills and treacherous curves that lay ahead, we decided to wait at the corner for a plow truck, prepared to spend the night in the truck, if need be.

Finally, a plow came by in the opposite direction as our destination, but we made a group decision to attempt to follow the highway to the nearest town and find a different route back. If this was unsuccessful, we agreed that we would find a cheap hotel to stay at for the night. Thankfully, this was not necessary, as the other roads were plowed and very passable. To see my team work together with such determination and fervor even after a full day of service was truly inspiring.

photo by: Kelly Kauffman

Burning Hills


by Dathan Tinney Dashing through the woods, with a drip torch open flame O'er slopes we go, lighting all the way Trees on hilltops burn, while making darkness bright Oh what fun it is to light a string and set this control burn off tonight.

Burning hills, burning hills, the trees are all okay. Oh what fun it is to light, with a drip torch open flame.


A day or two ago, we set this line up right. Cut the snags down low, so their cinders won't ignite Cleared the edge of fuel, won't have mop-up last all night. So while the wind speed 's low, get this backburn working right.

Burning hills, burning hills, the trees are all okay. Oh what fun it is to light, with a drip torch open flame.


Now the ground is black, the leaves are gone from sight The flowers that will bloom, will make this glade alright. Habitats restored, the animals delight. Tired, sore, and bruised - should sleep soundly through the night

Burning hills, burning hills, the trees are all okay. Oh what fun it is to light, with a drip torch open flame.

Joplin One Year - Member Reflection


One Year, One Community, One Direction

Submitted by Clare Holdinghaus, Year 18 ERT

This month I got to return to Joplin for the one year anniversary of the tornado. Being in the AmeriCorps Recovery Center, seeing the destruction and talking to homeowners again brought back all the stress and frustration and all the sadness that I knew in my two months serving in Joplin. I was also reminded of all the joys, the thrill of accomplishment, and the gratitude that I felt working for storm-affected residents. The strength of these emotions surprised me as they all came flooding back. During my time in Joplin, I plowed through my work every day, oftentimes putting in long hours in the office working on tedious tasks or doing physical labor out in the field. I ended each day exhausted. There was little time for reflection or sentimentality.

Returning months after I served in Joplin gave me space and perspective to reflect. I re-experienced the sorrow of hearing homeowner’s stories of their losses, the satisfaction of planting a healthy, beautiful tree in a homeowner’s yard, and the humility of seeing the strength and dedication of the volunteers we work with. I cried when people cheered AmeriCorps as we walked through the streets of Joplin. I knew I had put in the hours, and I knew I had put in the effort, but until returning to Joplin, I didn’t realize how much of my heart I had invested. I fell in love with Joplin. One year after the storm, and four months after leaving, Joplin is still in my heart every day.

Click here for more photos of the Joplin Anniversary 

Support disaster recovery in Joplin and other affected communities by donating to AmeriCorps St. Louis.


Tales from the Trail - Part One


A Week at Markham Springs - Written By Sara Levine, ERT Yr 18

This week was an exciting week for our Emergency Response Team on the Bike Trail. We were able to bring a team of 14 people! In addition to 8 ERT members, 6 members from the Education Team joined us. Although it was a short week (Memorial Day), we were able to get a lot of work done on the trail. We made it around the halfway point of the section we are working on. It was a short week filled with bouts of rain, riverboat rides, and lots of trail. We taught the Ed Team members about building tread for a bike trail and how to use different tools. It was educational for everyone!

One of the awesome things about the week was camping at the Markham Springs Recreation Area. Markham Springs is a part of the Mark Twain National Forest. The best part about staying there was meeting the campground host and hostess. They were so gracious in welcoming us into their campground. When we arrived we were given a basket of homemade sugar cookies. They were amazing to us. They told us many times how happy they were to see the youth of America caring about things like the country’s national parks.

It’s meeting people like that who make all of our long days worth it. It helps remind all of us that even though we can’t always see the finished product, someone can and they are thankful. It reminds us that when we serve, we are doing it for people like Lavinda and Henry High, who genuinely appreciate all of the work we do. It was especially gratifying for our team this week because we were able to directly help out the High’s. There is a trail – The Eagle Bluff Trail – at Markham Springs that they were hoping we could fix up for them. The trailheads had become overgrown with vegetation and there were fallen trees across the trail. Our last day this week we stayed at Markham Springs and helped maintain the trail. We cleared out the trailheads and did a little maintenance along the trail, got rid of all of the downed trees. The trail is a beautiful little path that runs along a ridge overlooking the Black River. Now that people can actually see where it starts, hopefully more people will use it and enjoy it.

Support Trail Projects in Missouri by Donating to AmeriCorps St. Louis

-Stay Tuned for more Tales from the Trail-


Reflections from the Leap Year Tornado Response


February 29th, 2012 was a day of destruction in Southwest Missouri.  Tornadoes ripped through the area leaving hundreds of families with severely damaged or destroyed homes.  The AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team was called into action by the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) to provide volunteer management to both Stone and Taney county. Being a State resource for volunteer and donations management with in a disaster response, the Emergency Response Team quickly mobilized and had two separate Volunteer Reception Centers operational by the morning of March 1, 2012.  Being the first disaster response for many of the Year 18 members, the Leap-Year Tornado has left an large imprint on their AmeriCorps service. As a Volunteer Coordinator in Stone County, Sara Levine,Yr 18  saw first hand the spirit of volunteers.  "It was amazing for me to meet so many people willing to do whatever they can to help. It was even more amazing when people who were affected by the tornado still came in to help other people."


Steven Lawson, Yr 18, took the role of Homeowner Coordinator for the Stone County Tornado Response gaining a new set of skills and understandings about both disaster response and volunteer coordination.  "We arrived, got some of our equipment moved into the vacant super market that would become our VRC, and very soon after volunteers starting pouring in looking for information on how to help and projects they could be sent out to. It was a hectic first few days, but we got set up and obtained more information about the area, the damage, the people, and the community in general things started going more smoothly. I have always been someone out in the field doing manual labor and have never had a job which involved any type of office work. So the forms and the processing of information was really interesting to see and learn about. Especially since I’ve been involved in volunteer work and never really knew how much it took to ensure that volunteers were properly coordinated to projects so the goal, in this case initial cleanup, could be reached. I was able to be there from the first day to the last day that the VRCwas open, so to see things from start to finish was also a unique experience. We definitely got a lot done and even as much as I had wanted to get out in the field every once in a while, I feel very grateful to be able to better understand this essential component of disaster response.  After this experience in Kimberling City, I feel much more confident in my abilities to work efficiently and effectively as a part of a VRC team and without this program I do not believe I would have had the opportunity to do such meaningful work while learning and continually challenging myself."

Sam Zytka, Yr 18 describes working with a disaster affected family in Stone County, "Within two days we had fully restored hope to the elderly couple and made their situation much more bearable. As we were concluding the day and closing up the file on their house, the homeowner, with tears in her eyes, gave me a hug to thank me for all the work we had done. Easily the most rewarding experience I've had in AmeriCorps thus far."

Jena Hood, Yr 18  tells a story of a woman in her early 70's that survived the Branson Tornado while living in a Long Term Motel on the Branson Strip.   "My first disaster with AmeriCorps was definitely an eye-opener for me. The resiliency that the community in Branson portrayed following the Leap Year tornado was extraordinary. The motel suffered irreparable damage and was deemed condemned. Residents were told they would not be allowed to return to gather their belongings because it would be too dangerous to allow people inside the structure. [The woman] however, did not heed the warning. She told the story of how she basically “snuck” into the motel in order to retrieve at least some of her more personal effects. Fortunately, she escaped unscathed. [Her] spirit never faltered, despite having had her home totally destroyed, losing many of her belongings, and being displaced for several days (she had to reside in an emergency shelter until she found an apartment). Words cannot express the energy and charisma that this woman portrayed. She truly represented the resiliency that the community as a whole exhibited after this disaster."

Stephanie Lee, Yr 18 ,  reflects on the big picture after the Leap- Year Tornado in Branson.  "Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of the AmeriCorps lifestyle, you forget to look at the bigger picture--the reason you joined the program. With the nature of the program being so day-to-day, minute-by-minute, there isn't a lot of time for the events of each day to sink into your psyche. There are those events however that imprint on your mind and hold a forever place in your heart. The first day I was there I scouted homes that were damaged and talked with the homeowners about their needs. I also observed how the Volunteer Reception Center is run and how vital AmeriCorps St. Louis is to the disaster relief effort.  I was so impressed with how competent our ERT team was in the Volunteer Reception Center and the Multi Agency Resource Center. It moved me to see such a combined and committed effort from my fellow team members, whom I've never had the opportunity of seeing in a disaster environment before. It made me so proud to be a part of such a vital disaster relief effort."

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Emergency Response Team Responds to Leap Year Tornados


KIMBERLING CITY - Missouri has had a rough year.  In April it will be a year since the Good Friday destroyed parts of North County and flood waters forever changed lives in the South East and North west part of our state.  In May, a year since the Joplin F5 tornado took 161 lives in St. Louis and spring is just getting started for us.  Central Missouri has fought wildfires since the fall, and then the Leap Year Tornado took 3 lives across the state, affecting thousands of people.  In the wake of all this destruction, good has prevailed.  AmeriCorps St. Louis, still committed to Joplin and the flooding in the Northwest, and having fielded hundreds of volunteers for the Leap Year tornado remains part of that good.  My team has amazed and inspired me.  Reminded me why hard times bring out the best in people.  And why this group of 34 young folks, so committed to national service, has changed the lives of many this year in Missouri and will undoubtedly continue this ethic of service for the rest of their lives.  To each one of you, and the support you have behind you, including the rest of our program, your family and friends, I thank you.  You are my reason.


The last few weeks have been a whirl wind for me, I have probably covered a ¼ of the state for tornados, wild fires, prescribed burns, and Joplin’s recovery, offering our Emergency Response Team’s assistance where ever we go.  I am planning on heading back to St. Louis today to catch up on the necessary office work that is less inspiring than the variety of work I have been consumed by.  Sitting in our VRC based out of the Branson Chamber of Commerce for the final days before we transition to a local church and make this a complete local effort, in walked a reminder.  A reminder of the type of people that fill Missouri and the Mid West.  A reminder of what it means to take care of your neighbor.  A reminder of the value and spirit of service.  A reminder of why I have chosen this as my life path.  Following an energetic group from Texas willing to do and buy whatever would help Misti and 10 other volunteers came in.  To most of the other people in the VRC, this was just another volunteer, but I knew Misti  from Joplin.  She had survived the Joplin tornado and turned her 5 acre property into a donation center, taking in resources sent from surrounding areas to support the community of Joplin.  What started as just a way to help in whatever way she could, became an official 501(C)3 , Misti’s Mission, and has continued almost 10 months after the storm.  But now, Misti, and her team of volunteers have come to help Branson and Taney county recover.  Have paid it forward.  Have continued the unyielding survival spirit of Missouri and reinforced the ideals that make me proud to be a Missouri transplant, and even prouder to be part of AmeriCorps St. Louis and the role we play in coordinating volunteers, and making groups like Misti’s volunteer experience as meaningful and rewarding as possible.

- Quinn Gardner - Field and Operations Coordinator, Emergency Response Team

Great Story - Not Your Average Evening


The first few weeks of November were enlightening, to say the least. After a whirlwind of trainings, workshops, and power-point presentations, I was finally growing into a novice wildland firefighter. The only thing I felt like I hadn't done yet was be on a fire, though it seemed like a long way off to put my knowledge to use. Little did I know, a short three days later I would be thrust into my first real flaming, smoking, smoldering fire. Our first fire occurred midday in a forest in Laclede County. We drove through a cow pasture to the edge of a wall of grey smoke engulfing the edge of the nearby forest. Somehow, that first fire was in retrospect a bit unremarkable. There was a lot of noise from the blowers, a lot of heat from the fire perimeter, and one quick back-burn, and from where I was the work on the fire was over. We rehabbed our gear, picked up the other crew, and got back to work elsewhere.

The real remarkable and surreal moment on fire happened that evening. We were called into a fire in Dallas County near the end of the day. It was still light, and as we got there the sun was just beginning to slip through through the trees. We were quickly ushered toward a field of flaming grass, parked in the scorched black section, and geared up to attack the flames before they reached a nearby trailer.

As I reached the line and a water-tanker engine began to douse the fire, I was pulled off to attack the other front with a blower. My half of the crew marched down the scratch line put in place by the local rural fire department, widening it along the way, in order to meet up with the other half of us to encircle the fire.

For the first time the scenery was getting to be not only like nothing I had seen before but somehow made more of an impact on me than earlier in the day. I don't know if it was the sensory deprivation of the ear-plugs along with the roaring of the blower motor, but it was like all of my other senses were on 'slow-motion' and 'record'. I remember the feel of the tall flames behind me licking the seat of my Nomex pants as I turned to clear the leaves opposite of me. I remember the golden rays filtering through the trees and the monstrous look of the bulldozer's white lights as it cut through the forest. I remember being able to see little through the dark trees but the shower of sparks that would rain off of the burning snags as the bulldozer took them out one-by-one.

It was one of the more surreal and beautiful moments of my life. I had just been thrust into this force of nature that I had never had experience with and come out safely on the other side, having done something good in the mean time. I felt lucky to have been where I was, doing what I was doing-- which is also pretty nice.

Jesse Bright; ERT Year 17


Great Story - Notes from the Tree Branch


One of the most shocking things about the tornado zone in Joplin is the complete lack of living things. Not only are houses and cars missing from properties, but blocks upon blocks of city streets are bare of trees, shrubs, or even grass and flowers. Those trees still standing are often twisted, bare, and broken. Progress is being made in the city: debris is being removed, houses are being torn down, and new homes are being rebuilt. Regardless of these steps, it’s still disheartening to see nothing but rocks and dirt in so many lots. This is what makes planting trees in Joplin so exciting. No one is sad when they come to get trees. Homeowners may have lost everything, but they will smile to think that they will see life again on their properties. They are excited to have shade again and a barrier against the wind. They can’t wait to have flowering dogwoods at Easter and evergreens at Christmas.

People will tell you stories of trees that got knocked down in the storm. One woman told me about a tree she and her husband planted right after they got married 65 years ago. Over the years that tree stood in the yard where their children, and then grandchildren, played. Nothing can replace that tree, or the memories that went along with it, but she was happy to think that more memories could be made. Replanting was one more step towards moving on.

To date we have planted over 400 trees in Joplin. More trees have been given out by churches, local conservation areas, and other nonprofits. Despite these efforts, many lots are still bare. It will take a long time to get Joplin back to pre-storm conditions, but I hope that the trees we plant will be signs of life and regrowth that will give people encouragement as the rebuilding of Joplin continues.

- Clare Holdinghaus; ERT Year 18

AmeriCorps St. Louis Members Recognized with MCSC Awards


MCSC AmeriCorps State Service Award recipient Will BurksJEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri Community Service Commission (MCSC) honored several Missourians who have helped strengthen their local communities through volunteerism and service at its annual Celebration of Service and Volunteerism. The awards ceremony took place on April 29, at the Truman Hotel and Conference Center, Jefferson City. “Nothing can compare to the benefits reaped when individuals come together with the goal of improving and enriching the lives of others,” said Linda Thompson, MCSC executive director. “MCSC, with a vision to strengthen Missouri communities through volunteerism and service, will pay special recognition to organizations and individuals who exemplify outstanding community service throughout the state at our annual Celebration of Service and Volunteerism.”

MCSC AmeriCorps State Service Award recipient Emily WoodruffAmeriCorps St. Louis Members is proud to have received three awards. Second-year Emergency Response Team Members Emily Woodruff and Will Burks both received an AmeriCorps State Service Award, which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding volunteer service over and beyond the requirements of their designated program. Our Coordinated Service Team, composed of Brittany Ledbetter, Jessica Callahan and Jacob Buck received the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service Award, recognizing outstanding projects and volunteer engagement surrounding the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

“Whether it is the AmeriCorps members serving their communities, or the volunteers who donate their time throughout the year and on ‘Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service,’ the Commission has had much success empowering individuals to ‘make a difference’ in Missouri communities,” Thompson said.

MCSC is composed of 15-25 governor-appointed commissioners with expertise in areas of community service and volunteerism. Commissioners and staff work together to encourage all Missourians to give of themselves to make Missouri a better place to live for all of its residents.

State-wide nominations for the awards are reviewed and selected by a panel of governor-appointed commissioners and commission staff. MCSC MLK Service Award given to AmeriCorps St. Louis Coordinated Service Team