ERT Deploys to the Gulf Coast for Hurricane Isaac Response


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                      Primary Contact: Bruce Bailey 9/12/2012                                                                                                              Alt Contact: Abby Simons

Office: 314-772-9002




AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team Deploys to Gulf Coast for Isaac Response



ST. JOHN’S PARISH, LOUSIANA -- The AmeriCorps St. Louis (ACSTL) Emergency Response Team will deploy to the Gulf Coast to provide leadership and disaster training in Louisiana in response to Hurricane Isaac.


A team of six will deploy from the ACSTL office in Soulard Wednesday, September 12 and head south to the community of St. John’s Parish, Louisiana west of New Orleans where they will serve for approximately one month.  These local AmeriCorps members will provide support for a volunteer reception center and homeowner call center.


The ACSTL Emergency Response Team will join more than 275 National Service members previously deployed to aid in the response and recovery of the Gulf Coast in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.


ACSTL’s response in Joplin, Missouri after the May 2011 Tornado received national recognition including the Corporation for National and Community Service’s 2012 National Service Award for Disaster Services, as well as requests to conduct disaster trainings across the United States.


To learn more  contact (314) 772-9002 or visit www.americorps-stl.org/hurricane-isaac




About AmeriCorps St. Louis: AmeriCorps St. Louis is a non-profit which utilizes donated resources to address critical unmet needs in the areas of education, disaster services and environmental stewardship. Since 1994, the Emergency Response Team has assisted over 30 states, by quickly responding to underserved and overwhelmed disaster-affected communities – leveraging coordinated volunteers and assisting emergency management and disaster relief organizations to address immediate needs and develop an enhanced capacity to recover, especially for vulnerable populations.  AmeriCorps St. Louis played a major role in past disaster responses within the Joplin, Missouri tornado and Hurricane Ike in Galveston, Texas. When not involved in disaster response, the ERT conducts community preparedness projects and undertakes natural resource stewardship projects to benefit the environment.



ERT Fellow Quinn Gardner Says Goodbye to ACSTL


"I will be completing my fourth year and final year with my beloved AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team. Come September I will be moving to Jefferson City to start a career with the State of Missouri in the Department of Public Safety, focusing on disaster preparedness and response.

  It has been nothing short of an amazing four years and no attempt at words of thanks, love, admiration, pride or growth will do it justice. I have met so many incredible people over the years. I have been inspired by those who have lost everything and can still find joy and hope, I have been humbled by the beauty of our forests and the strength of wildfire, and perhaps more then anything I have been forever changed by those people I have served along side.


To my fellow national service members, I Thank You; for helping me become a better person and for giving of yourself so tirelessly. You are what this generation should be known for, open hearts, never ending passion, and a deep dedication to making our country, and the world, better than we found it. So many experiences have shaped my years with the Corps, but none can compare to the smiles, laughs, tears and sweat and we have shared. I could not have asked for more.

To those who have dedicated their lives (government, NGOs and Faith based alike) to helping people recover- you amaze me. I have learned so much from you and look forward to continuing the relationship we have built to continue to serve Missouri and our nation by being a model for disaster preparedness and response.

To the communities and individuals I have served- your strength and perseverance will guide me throughout my life.

Maybe the people I will miss the most are those I have yielded chainsaws beside to tame the never ending cedar or honeysuckle, those I have battled flames with to protect homes, and those who, with so little recognition, continue to fight the fight to respect, conserve and help all enjoy our natural areas. I do not know when our paths will cross again, but I have been forever changed for knowing you. I found friends in very unlikely places with so many of our conservation contacts and I thank you, for being you and the passion you bring to such an important mission.

I have been supported by so many amazing people during this journey, people that sacrificed so much to allow me to follow this passion. I have never thanked you, or apologized to you, for accepting only part of me, because you understood I was only half a person without having an avenue to serve others. My family, friends, and loved ones have all settled for less time and attention from me than they deserved. Thank you for understanding what this necessary journey has meant to me. Thank you for letting me come this far, and thank you for supporting me on the newest chapter of my life.

And to the future, to be honest, you terrify me. But with love by my side, the lessons I have learned and the strength I have been shown- I embrace you. AmeriCorps St. Louis saved me, helped shape me, and now surrenders me. I know this new path, traveled by the person ERT has helped me become, will allow me to continue to serve and have a positive impact on the lives of others. And for that I am eternally grateful." - Quinn Gardner

Quinn Gardner served as a member of the Emergency Response Team for four years. Her final two years were spent in a fellowship position coordinating and supervising ERT members, service and conservation projects, and disaster response efforts.

Volunteering in Joplin


Public Information Office

Joplin, Missouri 64801

417-624-0820 Ext. 204

417-625-4707 (Fax)



July 20, 2012   # 198

SUBJECT:   City encouraging skilled laborers to join efforts with volunteer rebuilding projects

CONTACT:  Lynn Onstot, Public Information Officer 417-624-0820, ext. 204

The sounds of hammers, saws and nail guns echo throughout the tornado devastated areas in Joplin and Duquesne. As rebuilding efforts continue, construction sites are becoming a common place to work for many volunteers who have come to help in the area’s recovery.

According to AmeriCorps St. Louis and Rebuild Joplin, organizations working with the City of Joplin through the Long Term Recovery Committee (LTRC) to coordinate volunteer efforts, the number of volunteers traveling to southwest Missouri has remained steady throughout the summer. Depending on the stage of the construction, some work sites have needs for general volunteers, but currently many of the homes need the addition of skilled laborers to complete specific tasks.

“The needs are changing as we move through the recovery process,” said Quinn Gardner, Operations Coordinator with AmeriCorps St. Louis. “Much of the work needed now involves plumbing, electrical wiring, and some detailed jobs that require skilled volunteers,” she said. “We can match up existing general volunteers with skilled laborers, but we’re currently experiencing a lack of skilled volunteers to work on the home sites.”

Gardner explained that all construction projects need various skilled laborers throughout the build, including electricians, plumbers, and masonry workers to help with the foundation and concrete work involved in the project. In addition, skilled carpenters, both framing and trim carpenters, are always needed as well.

“Small groups of self- sufficient skilled laborers with multiple means of transportation would be the ideal situation,” she said. “We also know that many of these workers may already be part of many builds through their employers, and yet they continue to come out and volunteer when their time allows. We truly do appreciate that extra effort because they provide valuable service to the projects.”

Volunteering in Joplin

Those interested in volunteering should contact Rebuild Joplin at 417-623-0065, in order to be assigned to a project according to the skills of the group. Skilled volunteers will work on home construction, while non-skilled volunteer groups may assist with surveying, tree watering and other projects. All volunteers are encouraged to be flexible as volunteer needs change.

Skilled volunteers who are coming to Joplin should bring a copy of their professional license or other credentials, including a business card or other documentation. AmeriCorps St. Louis tracks all of this information in a volunteer database for future reference.

AmeriCorps also reminds all volunteers to bring certain items that are essential when working out in the heat. Shade tents, coolers with ice, and water for their group are important, as well as sunscreen and insect repellant. In addition, it is highly recommended that groups bring their own tools if they have them due to limited tool supplies to loan out to volunteers.

“We encourage groups to be as self-sufficient as possible. If they come as a group, it’s also helpful if they have several vehicles so when divided into work groups they have transportation. And by calling ahead to Rebuild Joplin about volunteering, their staff can discuss the type of equipment and tools that would be helpful to bring.”

Gardner said that those groups who have coordinated their visit with affiliated church groups in this area should continue to follow this process, as area churches are working with the LTRC to coordinate work in the recovery and rebuilding.

Volunteering from Home

Recently, other volunteer efforts have also been strong within volunteers’ home communities to help Joplin and Duquesne. Through fund-raising efforts, communities and volunteers can adopt a family that may need to purchase appliances or other items for the new home they will be moving into soon.Joining Hands in the Heartland is one such initiative of AmeriCorps St. Louis that partners families in need with volunteers wanting to help, but who are unable to make the trip to Joplin.

“Volunteers have been essential since May 22 of last year,” she said. “We know many want to help and we continue to be contacted with new ideas to address the needs of families in Joplin and Duquesne. The Joining Hands program is one of those great projects. By connecting volunteers or a whole community with families who have specific needs, another family gets to move home that much sooner.”

A recent survey conducted by the LTRC shows more than 100 families have specific needs that people can help meet without ever leaving their own communities. If you are interested in learning more about these needs, please contact the LTRC at 417-625-9192 or follow them on Facebook (www.facebook.com/JoplinLTRC).

If you are interested in the Joining Hands in the Heartland project, contact Chelsea at AmeriCorps St. Louis by calling 314-772-9002 or via email at Chelsea@americorps-stl.org.  More information on this program can also be found at www.ACSTL.org .

# # #

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 Trails - Part 2


Markham Springs Bike Trail- Written by Sara Levine, ERT Yr 18

We have reached the final stretch of the trail! The part that we are working on is 8-9 miles long. We finished the back half in the 2nd week we were there. We made it past the halfway point on the front section last week. There is still another 12 miles of the trail to complete on the other side of the road, but there is logging going on so we can’t work on it until they are finished.

I am anxious to get this section done! This is my 6th consecutive week on the bike trail and it is amazing to see the transformation. Bikers are already using it too! Two bikers stopped by our campsite a couple of weeks ago to tell us they loved the trail. It was such a great feeling to know people are actually excited about our project! It makes those 90 degree days in high humidity worth it.

Even though we didn’t finish this week, we were able to build a lot of trail. We parked at a new spot this week so we could hike in form the far end. We hiked in over the trail that still needs to be dug, to the point where we ended the day before. And then we work our way towards our exit. We were able to take 15 minutes off of our hike in time. This week’s group has helped build some great tread for this trail. They have worked so hard to get as much done as possible. It was a really inspiring week, watching so many hard workers focus on this project. Even though some of the team members switch out week after week, and they aren’t always on this project, they still dedicate so much time and energy to it.

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

-Stay Tuned for more Tales from the Trail-


Saving the Bat Cave


While Batman might not live here, Missouri is home to thousands of bats. A fungus causing White Nose Syndrome has been found in and around  many of the caves in Missouri and Illinois threatening the survival of the bat population. This past spring the AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team has been working with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) to help save the bats near the Current River in Shannon County, Missouri.  Through a United States Fish and Wildlife Service Grant, The AmeriCorps St. Louis Crew was able to create an access trail that was needed to create the steel gate that would protect the bats from human interaction while they can regenerate the bat population.  Equipment brought in steel that was used to create a 20 x 64 ft gate closing off the entrance to the cave.

"It was gratifying to know our team's efforts were instrumental in the the preservation of these bats for future generations." -Lucas Boyd, Team Leader for the Bat Cave Trail Project, ERT Yr 18

Scouting out a possible route for the trail with MDC Partner, Susan Farrington.  Photo by Lucus Boyd

Jason Edwards, ERT Yr 18 saws a fallen tree to create the access trail.

Fun Fact about Bats:  A single colony of 1,000 bats, with each bat weighing less than half an ounce, may eat more than 2,200 pounds of insects per year--about 660 million insects! (Missouri Department of Conservation)

Click here to learn more about MDC Bat Management in Missouri.


We need your help to keep projects like this going!

Help support AmeriCorps St. Louis.


Joining Hands in the Heartland- 1st Appliance Purchased!


Abby Simons, Yr 17 and 18 ERT Member,  created a fundraiser among her friends and family to jumpstart this initiative. Through Joining Hands in the Heartland, the first large appliance was purchased for a family affected by the Joplin Tornado.

"I started this fundraiser for Joplin, for the people the Tornado affected, and for the impacts that it has had on my life. Over a year ago, I was deployed to Joplin hours after the storm hit. Without looking back I jumped into what would become the most powerful 77 days of my young life. I feel extremely connected to Joplin and wanted to continue my response efforts there. I know that I was able to accomplish a lot while I was in Joplin, but most that work was behind the scenes coordinating and managing volunteers. This was a way that I could directly impact at least one family affected by that Tornado.  I'm so thankful to everyone that has joined me to adopt this family." - Abby Simons, Yr 17 and 18 ERT

The Appliance will be picked up by the AmeriCorps St. Louis Joplin Recovery Team in Joplin and delivered to her adopted family that has been working with the Joplin Long Term Recovery Committee case management.

About Joining Hands in the Heartland 

In Missouri alone, thousands of families have recently been affected by disaster.  It’s time to help our state rebuild, recover, and begin anew.  This gives individuals and groups an opportunity to join hands in the heartland and give those affected by disasters a lasting gift. With your help, we can make sure these families will have the appliances they need to make their house a home again. Register now to adopt your own family affected by disaster!

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."

Stay Involved

Volunteer in Disaster Affected Communities Joining Hands in the Heartland Become a Member Donate to AmeriCorps St. Louis to Support future Disaster Responses


SERVE.gov Article: Lessons Learned: A Q&A with AmeriCorps Member and Joplin Veteran, Abby Simons


Lessons Learned: A Q&A with AmeriCorps Member and Joplin Veteran, Abby Simons

By Samantha Jo Warfield

To mark the one-year anniversary of the May 22 Joplin tornado, we'll be featuring a variety of content on the serve.gov blog, including Q&As with those who served in the community, like this one.

Question: What went through your mind when you first landed in Joplin?

Simons: Despite having driven through the night to arrive the morning of the 23rd, I felt energized and ready to face the uncertainty that would be coming. I joined my team, who had arrived a few hours before, and stepped up to fill the holes that had not yet been met. While adrenaline was pumping through my veins, I actually felt a sense of calm because my team and I were prepared to get the process of our response started. Things were coming together in those first few hours by simply utilizing the resources and knowledge we had brought from our St. Louis office. We were getting things done.

Question: Tell us about the moment that touched you most.

Simons: While we had thousands of inspirational volunteers in Joplin, a few really made an impact on me. One young man, Toshi, traveled from Japan to volunteer with us. While his community was still recovering from the terrible earthquake earlier that year, he devoted his time in a town he had never heard of: Joplin, Missouri. He was paying forward the American support that flooded to Japan after its disasters.

While Toshi left us several inspirational stories, he told me that he wanted to take what he had learned in Joplin back home and create a volunteer center, one that would be ready to respond during a disaster. This led me to look back at my personal service trips to New Orleans and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina and how those volunteer trips influenced me. They inspired me to continue serving and to lead others into service in hopes that they will bring it back home with them.

Question: How are you continuing your service?

Simons: I signed up for a second year [in AmeriCorps] because I fell in love with AmeriCorps St. Louis and want to see it succeed. I want to continue to be a part of a program that had accomplished amazing things in the short time I had been serving. Being such a member driven program, I also felt that there was even more to gain from signing up for another year with AmeriCorps St. Louis.

Question: How have you changed? What skills have you gained since first arriving in Joplin?

Simons: My service during the Joplin Tornado response pushed me in to roles of responsibility and leadership that I couldn't have ever imagined for myself. Now, I feel confident that I can and will succeed when I am faced with a challenge or opportunity that seems a little far out of reach.

Question: What do you see yourself doing in 5 years? How has your service in Joplin influenced that vision?

Simons: I am currently researching graduate programs in Public Administration with an emphasis in Emergency Management and Nonprofit Management. I hope to become a facilitator of change in our county. The Joplin response definitely had a big part in paving this path for me by allowing me to work directly with our State and Federal Emergency Management partners.

Direct Link to the Serve.gov article 

NY Times Article Calling for Congress to Step up for AmeriCorps

Congress Needs to Step Up for AmeriCorps

Published: April 5, 2012

After months of Republican obstructionism, the Senate last week unanimously confirmed Wendy Spencer to lead the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps and other programs that encourage Americans to serve in their communities.


The Republican blockading of Ms. Spencer, herself a Republican who has led Florida’s volunteer and community service effort under three Republican governors, had no justification. Finally, persistent complaints about the delay from service groups were heard.

Ms. Spencer arrives on the job at a critical moment. AmeriCorps has been a favorite budget-cutting target for House Republicans. Their latest budget calls for eliminating the federal agency and ending financing for AmeriCorps — a move they pushed for in the last two budget cycles. Even with support from the White House, money for AmeriCorps has been shrinking.

Republicans used to get it. Just three years ago, Congress approved a major expansion of the program with overwhelming support from both parties. AmeriCorps was to have 140,000 members serving this year, on projects like building low-income housing, cleaning up rivers and parks, responding to natural disasters and teaching at-risk students.

Instead, the program’s operating budget for fiscal 2012 has been cut to $471.1 million from $500.6 million in fiscal 2009. There are now 82,500 members, down from 88,000 in 2010, even though hundreds of thousands apply to serve every year.

Last year, the Points of Light Institute honored President George H. W. Bush, its founding force, for his efforts to promote national service and volunteerism in a televised tribute. Now some Republicans who sponsored that event, including Representatives John Boehner, the House speaker, and Eric Cantor, the majority leader, are abandoning AmeriCorps and its vital work.

Ms. Spencer’s immediate challenge will be to work with President Obama and Senate supporters of national service to keep the program at the current level. She will need to reach out to House Republicans, who seem to have forgotten the value of community service.

A version of this editorial appeared in print on April 6, 2012, on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: Congress Needs to Step Up for AmeriCorps.


Great Stories - December on Taum Sauk


The AmeriCorps St. Louis ERT team entered December knowing that it would be a challenging month. We had just received notice that our team was awarded a grant which would involve some intense work around the Taum Sauk area over the next few weeks. Throughout the project, the team worked cohesively and efficiently, and we accomplished a lot.  Aside from those quantifiable achievements, though, I was continually impressed and touched by the great sense of comraderie and high morale of the entire group.  Members went out of their way to take care of each other and keep spirits up. Just one example involves two members, Will and Janette, acting as "Santa's Helpers".  They brought decorations from home, set up a Christmas tree, and even suprised the group one morning with candy canes. This attitude extended to others as well.  An ERT alumnus volunteered not only his equipment but his time as well and joined us out in the field. Our program director, Bruce, treated our team to breakfast on an especially cold morning. One of our MDC partners remembered us mentioning a cookout and brought the team a homemade jar of pickles. It is hard to describe how much I appreciated every gesture. It became extremely evident to me that I was part of a truly special team, and it made me very proud to be a member. Lisa Formanik- ERT, Year 17 and 18

 "It became extremely evident to me that I was part of a truly special team, and it made me very proud to be a member."