emergency response

Learning to Swim in the Deep End of the Pool


by Clare Holdinghaus This weekend I helped a friend build a table out of some old pallets. As we were cutting the pallet with a reciprocating saw, the blade broke off. We had no replacement. We had no other knives, saws, or power tools capable of finishing the job. So we got two vice grips, clamped one on either end of the broken blade, and made a jury-rigged cross cut saw. Between the three of us we hand-sawed through the remaining pallet planks and finished the table.

It was a little thing, but I was proud of us. Being able to finish the job even without the tools “necessary” showed just how far I had come in my capacity for problem solving. We face challenges like this every day in AmeriCorps St. Louis: How do you finish felling a tree when your saw breaks down? How do you organize and communicate time-sensitive data on a disaster with no internet capability? How do you get a truck out of a ditch without winches or tow-straps? Two years of being put in situations requiring real-life problem solving to meet critical needs has given me the confidence and the creative mindset to tackle these problems head on.

The day-to-day challenges we face in AmeriCorps St. Louis are real, and carry much more at stake than merely completing a table. The real-world needs we are asked to address – providing services on the front line for disaster survivors, homeless men and women, and eco-systems in crisis – take the option for failure off the table. And it is being put in this position that brings out the best in our abilities. Sometimes I feel it’s like being thrown in the deep end of the pool and told to learn how to swim. There are people who wouldn't risk it for fear of drowning. There are some that think that taking that risk is something no one should be asked to do. But year after year we’re thrown in the deep end. Year after year, we swim. Year after year, I see Corps Members come in looking for guidance, and leaving with an ability to lead.