Started from the Bottom

The NCCC – FEMA Corps Graduation speech I co-wrote with my dearest friend Breanna Datesman.

Me: On July 22nd 2013, my whole life changed. I packed up all the clothes I could fit into a small green government issued bag and I said goodbye to the best city in America (Boston) so I could move to Vinton, Iowa and share a small room with 3 other females in an extended Stay America for 6 months. (That wasn’t directed at you Brandi). This program is not what anyone was expecting…

Breanna: I left the suburbs of Philadelphia (the actual best city in America), confident that this service year would meet all of my expectation. I quickly found out expectations are quite dangerous. If you asked Breanna Datesman, on July 21st 2013, what I expected my year of service to look like, I would have never been able to describe the challenges, triumphs and beautiful people I had met along the way.

Me: On the first day of Team Leader Training, I remember sitting there and listening as THows explained that they would only be watching us like hawks in order to “promote growth” and “challenge our comfort zones” – whilst listening the only thing I thought was how long can I sit here with sandals on until someone notices and asks me to change (it took about 15 minutes for a TL to ask me to change). 

Breanna: TLT was jam packed with training, as I am sure all of the TLs recall. But nothing could truly prepare us for the journey that we were about to embark on.

Me: on August 20th the corps arrived and we all were quickly whisked away to Anniston and then Round 1… Through those months I learned that Spruce 6 meant more to me than I ever thought they could – they created a new reason for me to stay, and their experiences and struggles encouraged me to understand why quitting was never an option… 

Breanna: Quitting is never an option. I went through a great transition from being a Field Team Leader to a Support Team Leader and then back to being a Field Team Leader. I know many wondered if I would stay. There was always something keeping me here. I look around this room now and I see dozens of faces that I could not walk away from. I learned during the times of heartache, that service is not always about the quantifiables… it’s about quality. Because at the end of the day I am going to remember the relationships, not the service work. It’s really all about the relationships I’ve made that have modeled to me to be the best version of myself possible. I learned that you end up surrounded by exactly who you are supposed to and now I am so privileged to be apart of Hickory One.

MeThis year everyone was faced with some sort of personal struggle, professional challenge, or administrative barrier. For me, I struggled with the finding why I wanted to serve – it took me until Round 2 to discover the importance of my role in National Service, which is to impact and encourage others to grow personally and improve the presence of support in communities. National Service is an umbrella term, it means something different to everyone – it is a label for a community need. I wouldn’t have learned this without the all of you teaching me something new. 

Breanna: Without this experience, without this program, I wouldn’t have learned that small actions can make someone’s day better, someone’s year better, someone’s life better. I have watched people grow exponentially, myself included. I cannot deny that I am  walking out of this room a different person than I had walked in during induction. I owe a lot of that change to my teams, both past and  present, and my friends who have become my family.

MeI’m leaving this program with friends and family, a new found appreciation for every supervisor I ever had, and a realistic definition of what service means to me. This year wasn’t what any of us were expecting, but I hope in some way somebody in this room leaves with a sense of pride in what was accomplished this year.  Remember we are always going to be AmeriCorps members and we need to remember that we got a lot done. 



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