We’re Back!

After 6 months of hard work, we’ve officially closed the Washington Tornado Relief Center. It’s a bittersweet feeling; while we’re thrilled to see people back on their feet, we’ll also miss all the wonderful volunteers and neighbors we’ve met. There’s too much to say about this experience for one post, so for now I’ll stick to the facts:

1. The WTRC was open from November 18th, 2013- May 10th, 2014.

2. During those 6 months we had countless volunteers (and by “countless” I mean, “we’re still counting them!”) who logged over 5000 hours of service time.

3. There were days when we had over 100 people come to the store for help.

4. We worked with many local (and not-so-local) organizations to find, receive, coordinate, and give out thousands of donations.

5. We filled 3 stores at the Washington Plaza in Sunnyland, plus 4 or 5 warehouses, with donations.

6. People from as far away as North Carolina and New Jersey traveled to the WTRC to volunteer with us.

7. AmeriCorps St. Louis came to Washington immediately after the tornadoes to take over the phone/volunteer coordination for us–and they were fantastic!

8. The Salvation Army and Red Cross brought hot food and drinks to us so we could feed our volunteers (and ourselves!) for several days.  The Red Cross continued to bring us hot chocolate and coffee all through the record-breaking cold this winter.

9. There were lots of tears–at first, tears of sadness and shock; but then, tears of happiness and relief as people started to put their lives back together.

10. We celebrated 3 major holidays at the Center–Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. They might be some of the most memorable -and meaningful- holidays we’ll ever celebrate.

 

So, the WTRC is closed.  We’re still helping to make sure the remaining donations (mostly water, perfect for the hot summer coming up) gets to those in need, but we’re no longer in Washington daily.  The people we met, the stories we heard, and the volunteers who gave so much to help those in need will always stay with us, though.  They’ve become a part of our program, a part of our community, and a part of our lives.  And we’ll always be grateful for the opportunity to be part of their story.  We’re sure, no matter what, they’ll stay Washington Strong!

 

 

.Washington AmeriCorps

Celebrating Black History Month

Why is February Black History Month?  

In 1926  Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History decided that the second week of February would be “Negro History Week”.  This was decided because of Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass’s birthdays.  In 1969, the Black United Students at Kent State University decided that it should be the entire month, prompting those students to propose it to the board and one year later, they celebrated Black History all month long. In 1976, Gerald Ford made it nationally recognized and urged everyone to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

So, now that it is February (although a few days late), we will be honoring some of the African Americans of our past that have done amazing things for America!  

The ABC’s of Black History Month

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A: Audre Lorde-Poet

Lorde was born in New York City to parents Fredrick and Linda who were from Barbados and Carriacou.  Audre was born Audrey but later dropped the Y due to the interest in the artistic semetry of e-endings.  Lorde wrote her first poem by the eighth grade.  While studying library science, she supported herself by working many different jobs including, factory worker, ghost writer, social worker, X-ray technician, medical clerk, and arts and crafts supervisor.  After moving out of Harlem, she began to explore her lesbian sexuality.
In 1954, she spent a year at the National University of Mexico which is deemed as a pivitol year for her.  She described it as a time of affirmation and renewal where she confirmed her identity on personal and artistic levels as a lesbian and a poet.  She returned to New York where she then went back to school, worked as a librarian, and was very active in the gay culture of Greenwich Villiage. Not only was she very active in the gay culture but she was an active feminist who in her work attacked underlying racism within feminism, describing it as unrecognized dependence on the patriarchy. She argued that, by denying difference in the category of women, white feminists merely passed on old systems of oppression and that, in so doing, they were preventing any real, lasting change. Her argument aligned white feminists with white male slave-masters, describing both as “agents of oppression” 

Evenutally, she earned her Master’s Degree in library science from Columbia University  She had two children, Elizabeth and Jonathon, but divorced their father in 1970.  She had other romantic partners for the remainder of her life, which came to an end on November 17, 1992.  She was in St. Croix and had died of liver cancer, although she had fought breast cancer for 14 years.  She was only 58.
In her own words, she was a” black, lesbian, mother, warrior, and poet.  In an African naming ceremony before her death, Lorde became Gambda Adisa, which means “Warrior: She Who Makes Her Meaning Known.”
Her Work

 B: Bayard Rustin
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Bayard Rustin was a leader in the social movement for civil rights, socialism, pacifism, non-violence, and gay rights.  He was born and raised in Pennsylvania but in 1936 he moved to Harlem where he made a living as a nightclub and stage singer.  He was a leading activist on the early 1947-1955 civil rights movement and helped initiate a 1947 Freedom Ride.  He helped organize the SOuthern Christian Leadership Conference to strengthen Dr. King’s leadership.  He promoted nonviolence and the practices of nonviolent resistance.  He learned this while he worked with Gandhi’s movement in India.  He was also the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  He also influenced young activists such as Tom Kahn and Stokely Carmichael in the organizations such as Congress on Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. 
Due to Rustin being a gay may and homosexuality being outlawed in some parts of the United States, he was arrested.  This was criticized by may of his fellow pacifists and civil rights leaders.  Many of his political opponents attacked him by calling him a  “pervert” or “immoral influence”.  In addition, his pre-1941 Communist Party affiliation when he was a young man was controversial. Due to these attacks his didn’t speak publicly too much.  He usually acted as an influential adviser to civil-rights leaders. In the 1970s, he became a public advocate on behalf of gay and lesbian causes.
On November 20, 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

 

Martin Luther King Jr Day

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Every year the AmeriCorps members and their fearless leaders attend the MLK Day Luncheon with hundreds of others.  There is always a phenomenal speaker who inspires and encourages those in attendance.  Afterwards there is a freedom march that many participate in, although, AmeriCorps does not partake.  Instead, we do a service project, usually at the Midwest Food Bank, which is where we went this year.  Three years ago, there were some issues with who was going to come and speak, last minute they brought in Michael Eric Dyson.  Dyson is a Professor of Sociology at Georgetown and is referred to as “a Princeton PhD and a child of the streets who takes pains never to separate the two” by Michael A Fletcher.  The year following him was none other than Condoleezza Rice who spoke of what her father and grandfather had taught her about how if you put your mind to something you could do it.  Just like Dr. King.  This year, they brought back Michael Eric Dyson.  

He ignored controversy and spoke about what Dr. King would think of everything that is going on with the United States.  He spoke of unemployment, the treatment of the poor, the LGBT community, the young, and women.  He spoke of politics and everything that the conservatives and liberals disagree on and how what matters is taking care of people.  He spoke on the war on drugs, Trayvon Martin, and racial profiling.  He touched on how we are quick to judge people for numerous reasons.  He spoke of how those who sag their pants may be hiding a body that is ravaged by the community that they live in.  He spoke on the music of this generation and how the language offends people but that the situations and the lives these artists sing/rap about don’t bother them.  He quoted Biggie Smalls, Jay-Z, Trey Songz, Marvin Gay, Barry White and countless others, using lyrics to connect the audience.  It involved everyone and helped them understand the points he was making.  He spoke of how women make less than what men do when doing the same jobs, about how we “love our mamas and hate our baby mama’s”, and how we should respect and love everyone no matter their race, gender, religion, sexual preference, or anything else that someone uses to define themselves.

He even went as far as to call people out.  The mayor, the city council, and the pastors, who at one point were not perfect and how they therefore can not judge people.  He told Peoria that we are the belt buckle of the Bible belt and that Jesus would be afraid to come here because he does not meet our standards of what Christianity is.  It was a much needed reality check for many of those in attendance.  He was very clear that no one is perfect and that we have a very long way to go but he did so in an inspirational way that mixed comedy and music with what he was speaking about.

After the luncheon, ten people went to the Midwest Food Bank.  After a brief video and tour, explaining everything that went on there, we sorted canned goods, labeling and re-boxing them.  We formed an assembly line and got to work, doing 2,036 cans of spaghetti sauce in under an hour.  All in all, it was a very successful and productive day while also bringing all of our AmeriCorps members together on such an important day.  Remember, MLK Day is not a day off, it’s a day on.  

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Getting Things Done

washington-tornado images

Devastation hit nearly a month ago in the Washington Area, a quick ten minutes from Peoria.  That Sunday we all knew we would be called into the office, but we had no idea what this would entail.  We had heard stories of AmeriCorps teams being part of the first responders to the Joplin and Moore Tornadoes in the past.  Would that be us?  Would be in the middle of the mess, picking up the pieces of people’s lives?  Could we handle that?  Our members are for the most part in schools, doing after school programs and tutoring.  We were not disaster relief specialists and honestly, I don’t think emotionally ready for what we could have been asked to do.  It was 8 AM Monday morning when members came in, current and past alike.  We were ready, up for the challenge.  We sorted everything we had in the basement that we could donate, hats, gloves,scarves, sleeping bags, hygiene items, and blankets.  Then… We waited.  We had to wait for the powers above us to give us the okay.  So we waited, ate some McDonald’s… and then waited some more.  We were almost disappointed!  We were supposed to be there!  Instead we were sitting in the office, eating McDonald’s, telling stories of how long we were without power, how windy it was, and how scared we all were for those who we knew who could have been effected.

Finally, we got the call.  We were going to Washington and setting up a donation center.  Not quite clean up, not quite right in the middle of it all, but the perfect spot for our loving and compassionate members who were in fact trained to take care of people.  We headed to Washington and started sorting.  We had tables and tables set up, Julie had helped take over for an exhausted Chamber of Commerce member who had be effected by the storm and was now in charge of donations, Natalie lead all of the sorting with some members, Andrew (an alum) photographed every bit of it, and Rebecca made phone calls.  We knew that this banquet center wouldn’t last long as a donation center.  We had trailer loads of things coming and there was no way that this could be what we needed it to be.  Two days later, we moved.  We went to an empty warehouse and filled the entire thing with shelves to put items on.  Three empty stores became Donation Centers, and that was only the beginning.

Now, nearly a month later, we are still going strong.  Three warehouses are filled to the ceilings with donations that are currently being sorted and then used to restock our shelves at Sunnyland Plaza.  AmeriCorps has completely taken over donations and will be there for the long run.  We were told to expect six months.  We never ever would have guessed that we would be there that long, holding victims hands as they pick up what they need, hugging them as they cry, and reassuring them that we are there for them and that this was all for them.  There have been some ups and downs and you’ll get that with anything like that.  But we have truly seen the best of people and have been so blessed to be able to be a part of this.

http://www.pjstar.com/article/20131211/NEWS/131219761

This is a newspaper article all about our donation center, and although no members, nor Natalie were interviewed, member Brenton is pictured.  For any information feel free to contact us here or on Facebook.

Fostering Transitions AmeriCorps (Facebook page)

AmeriCorps: Getting Things Done!

An important note.

Hi, Natalie here. I want to post something important from the site Becca listed yesterday (http://www.illinois.gov/ready/Press/Pages/111713.aspx).

TO VOLUNTEER

  • DO NOT GO TO THE SCENE OF A DISASTER
  • Due to the overwhelming response, there are far more volunteer offers than there are volunteer needs.
  • The arrival of unexpected volunteers will interfere with response efforts.
  • STAY SAFE by volunteering with a reputable agency!
  • Volunteers will be needed most during the long-term recovery phase, which will last month/years.
  • Please be patient and WAIT until relief agencies can train you and use your help.

Bolded emphasis mine. PLEASE remember that unexpected/unsolicited volunteers can often make things worse.  We understand that everyone feels helpless and wants to do anything they can at a time like this to help, but it’s imperative that you wait until you’re contacted by a reputable agency to come out.  Please don’t show up unannounced, and please don’t donate things that aren’t asked for. We spent hours yesterday evening going through bags of donated clothes, and while those will be very helpful for victims of this disaster, there were also many thing that won’t be helpful at all (for example, the many pairs of used underwear we had to sort through).  There will be plenty to do, and work for everyone in the long term, so please be patient while we figure out where to place you. Thanks!

An udate.

We have been posted to Washington, IL for full-time tornado recovery efforts. We will be at the donation center located at Countryside Banquet facility (659 School St.). We are asking that those who want to sign up to help go through the Washington Chamber of Commerce. Thanks!

Devastation.

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November 17, 2013 has become a day that will not be easily forgotten by those who live in Central Illinois.  Around 10:30 to 11 a tornado ripped through multiple areas in the areas surrounding Peoria.  Washington getting the brunt of the storms which reached nearly 200 MPH winds while there were touchdowns in Pekin, East Peoria, Marquette Heights, and Roanoke.  Devastation is widespread.  There was luckily ONLY one fatality in Washington, but six throughout Illinois.  Governor Pat Quinn has been going throughout Illinois assessing damage and visiting with the communities effected the greatest, seeing what the needs are and trying to lift spirits as best as he can.  Volunteers are still being asked to stay out of the area, especially Washington, until they can determine what needs to be done and who can be of the most help.  Stay tuned to news and radio reports, FEMA reports, and reports from American Red Cross, as they are the sources you should be listening to.

What can I do to help?

As of right now, Red Cross is asking to go online and make monetary donations, selecting that the funds be sent directly to the tornado relief.  Although there will be needs in the next few days to weeks, once everything has been assessed the shelters will know exactly what they need.  Right now, the area has been flooded with donations of all kinds, which is wonderful, although there is no areas to store anything yet.  Again, stay tuned to see when they will be accepting donations and what they need.

What is AmeriCorps doing?

Today, our members gathered together at the Agency and put together everything we had including sleeping bags, blankets, hats, gloves, scarves, and hygiene items.  We haven’t sent them anywhere as we are still waiting to hear where there is a need.  We have also not been mobilized.  We are ready and we are on call for when we are needed but until all of the damage has been assessed, we will not be sent anywhere.  There are other AmeriCorps groups that are coming from Missouri and other states to help and once they have arrived, our AmeriCorps team will help them in whatever ways we can, be it lodging, transportation, or guidance as they are not familiar with the area.  We will later be put in charge of volunteer groups at emergency child care places that have been opened, or at shelters, or food pantries, or with animals.  Wherever we are needed we will be.

How can I stay updated and in the loop?

This website has everything that you need to know.  Who is involved, who needs what, where you can help, what you can donate, etc, etc.
Also feel free to contact us here at AmeriCorps: Fostering Transitions.
Coordinator Julie S: jsiebert@chail.org
Team Member Coach Natalie S: nsalawage@chail.org
AmeriCorps members: americorps@chail.org
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