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AmeriCorps Volunteer Finds Calling to Serve
Written by Kelly Chandler Staff Reporter


Kristen Dickey, 24, of East Greenville, recently returned from almost a year of service with AmeriCorps.  Dickey is now looking into a government career where she can serve the public.

               It's hard not to feel like a different person when you've spent the past year helping others, Kristen Dickey said.

                Dickey, of East Greenville, recently returned from a stint with AmeriCorps, a federal service organization that sends thousands of young adults into communities in need each year.  A sister to PeaceCorps, its volunteers are trained to meet public safety, health, educational and environmental demands across the US while developing an appreciation for citizenship.

                The 24-year-old first came in contact with the group while rebuilding homes in New Orleans, Louisiana.  She traveled there in 2009 after Hurricane Katrina with a team from New Goshenhoppen United Church of Christ, East Greenville.

                "Since I met the AmeriCorps team, it's been a dream of mine to serve in the program," she said.  "I wanted to give back to communities here in our country and I wanted a chance to learn more about myself."

                And she did just that.  Entering service with the FEMAcorps division last February, she was initially trained how to support disaster survivors at the Denton, Texas National Processing Service Center.   Dickey registered disaster survivors by phone for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

                There she dealt with people affected by tornados, flooding and severe storms in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Florida.  While it was stressful and sometimes emotional, she calls it the highlight of her service.

                "In Arkansas it pretty much wiped a town off the map," she said of a class EF4 tornado in Faulkner County which killed 16 people in that state alone. "Some people were optimistic and some were at the lowest point in their lives – they lost everything. 

                "I will never forget an older man who had such a positive attitude about a terrible situation.  He said if we couldn't help him he would find a way to make it work.  He was so grateful."

                After her time in Texas, her team traveled to the Jamaica section of Queens, New York and lived above a church.  There they worked in the [Superstorm] Sandy Recovery Field Office for six weeks.  Dickey worked in environmental and historic preservation, researching historically-important sites and documenting their current state.  

                Following New York, she was sent to Kansas City, Missouri to work at a FEMA office, again compiling research on endangered species, their habitats, and historic landmarks and buildings. 

                On weekends she volunteered for a variety of independent service projects.  Some were dedicated to environmental efforts – in Denton she volunteered at the community beautification-focused Redbud Festival and in Kansas City, Missouri she promoted recycling and composting at a Kansas City Chiefs game.  She also spent an additional day in Kansas City helping eradicate invasive honeysuckle.

                Other projects raised money for non-profits like the Salvation Army Most Good Obstacle Course and 5K, the Kansas City Irish Festival and the Zombie Frenzy 5K, benefiting Gospel for Asia.

                In Denton County, Dickey helped orchestrate a mock emergency drill, projecting an active shooter situation, with emergency personnel.

                She worked to do drywall and construction work with organizations Tunnel 2 Towers and Friends of Rockaway in New York.  In Kansas City she also helped salvage household items like doors, flooring, an oven, a microwave, an attic fan and a kitchen sink from a home set for demolition.  Those items were donated to Habitat for Humanity.

                Each day presented her with a new challenge.  She said she grew immeasurably as a person.

"I gained so many things during my time with AmeriCorps," Dickey said.  "I expanded my interpersonal communication and leadership skills.  I learned a great deal about living and working in a team-based environment.  I learned more about myself as a person…I was able to explore and learn about so many new places while also meeting amazing people from all over the country.

                "It's an empowering and humbling experience.  I can confidently say I'm a different and better person because of my experiences in AmeriCorps."

                At graduation in November, Dickey was awarded a bronze Presidential Service Award and a Congressional Service Award for her 1,800 hours of service.  Prior to graduation, she was recognized by AmeriCorps as a "member of the round" and served as an ambassador representative for the program.  

                Dickey said she plans to continue helping people in need.  In two weeks she will travel to Brooklyn, New York with her Dad, Greg, whom she credits with instilling the importance of service, to rebuild homes still in disarray from Superstorm Sandy.  

                "I believe serving others is good for the soul," she explained.  "Serving others gives you a sense of community.  Even a small act of kindness can turn a person's whole day around.  You never know what kind of lasting impact your help could leave on someone."      





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