Catching Up

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This was Store One for the first few weeks!

Things have been crazy here in Peoria… Well, Washington.  We have all of our members hard at work doing many different things.  We’re coming up on FIVE MONTHS since the tornado ripped through Washington, East Peoria, and Pekin, Illinois.  With the weather warming up, rebuilding and renovations have started and THIS is getting everyone’s spirits up.  But with how busy things have been, the blog has been a little bare.  Sorry about that!  So here, is a bit of a recap of events for Fostering Transitions, AmeriCorps.

November 17 was the day of the tornadoes.  Things were pure chaos for the weeks that followed.  People were desperate to find a place to stay, they were contacting insurance, and gathering their possessions that were still there.  We were setting up shelters, gathering donations, and getting them where they needed to go.  Within the first few days, AmeriCorps had taken over all donations and had a distribution set up in Sunnyland Plaza.  We had three stores there plus a few other warehouses to store everything that came in.  The Midwest is known (by disaster aid organizations) for our generosity and it definitely showed!  The three stores included the general store, an overflow area, and a strictly clothing store.

Today, nearly five months later, we still have two of the stores at Sunnyland Plaza and a warehouse or two.  The stores have changed so much in this time though!  We have gone from everything on pallets on the floor, to shelves, and an actual organized store!  Not only this but we now get fresh produce brought to us every Friday and we are able to provide that for those in need as well.  We really have come such a long way.  We have gotten so many clothes we don’t know what to do with all of them.  We’ve clothed those who needed it here locally and have sent clothes all over the world now to those in need.  Hopefully soon we will be out of the clothing business as it’s not needed as much anymore.  We still have our clothing store open and it is available for anyone. The general store has transitioned to a long term facility meaning that you have to have some sort of documentation to show that there was property damage.  For example, customers must have a FEMA acceptance letter, and insurance document, or a Red Cross card.  We serve about thirty families in a day and are still open four days a week.  Everything is completely volunteer run.  We have a few of our AmeriCorps members stationed out in Washington instead of other sites.  I for example am stationed at The Children’s Home normally but since the tornado, I go to the office to turn in time sheets and for meetings, and the rest of the time am in Washington. But other than our AmeriCorps members, everything else is done by pure volunteers from all over.  We have had girl scout and boy scout troops, Church groups, College groups, people from Washington, people from all over Central Illinois, and also from many other states.  We have had donations flood in from very giving high schools, churches, and other people.  We recently had 110 prom dresses delivered to us so that girls don’t have to worry about the HUNDREDS of dollars that prom costs.  Through this, we have met some really amazing people.  Although this all came from a tragedy, so much good has come from this!

We have celebrated many different things this year as AmeriCorps, such as MLK Day, Black History Month, Women’s History Month, HATCH, Child Abuse Awareness Month, Autism Awareness, Mayor Day, and many many others.  We have been recognized for our service by the city of Washington and in just a few days, we will be recognized for our service by the city of Peoria as well.  These are very big things for our program and we are all very proud of what we have done.  

Not only have we been in Washington and celebrating wonderful things, but we still have many members who are hard at work at after school programs around the city.  We have members who have finished half of their terms and are now in the home stretch of finishing up hours.  We have members at the Dream Center, Salvation Army, and Friendship House.  Because of our members involvement in these programs, we have children who’s lives are being changed by a positive influence that they may not have otherwise.  AmeriCorps is really an amazing program!

Not only is our program and all the members amazing but we have a few AMAZING leaders.  I would like to take a moment to talk about our Team Member Coach, Natalie.  Natalie is a full time employee at the Children’s Home meaning that she has A LOT of stuff to do on site.  But since the 18 of November, with the exception of maybe a week, and Sundays, Natalie has been in Washington EVERY SINGLE DAY.  On some days she is both at the office and then at the donation center.  She works from early in the morning to late into the evening every single day.  She has made so many connections with those in the community and has befriended those who come in.  She knows people by name and can always be the person to calm someone down.  She heads the volunteers and makes sure that everything is being done correctly.  She handles the stress and unfortunately the drama, very well.  Natalie has really made an impact in Washington and touched hundreds of lives.  Natalie has made me incredibly proud to be able to say that she’s my superviser.  She has always been an excellent role model to all of us but now, working in this setting with her, I can say that she definitely has made an impact on my life and has set the standard for the type of person I want to be.  

So, although we haven’t had much time to blog about what’s going on, we have been hard at work, getting lots of things done!   Hopefully, I will be able to keep you more updated as time goes on!

Have a wonderful Monday!

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Limestone cheerleaders brought a TON of donations. Thank you :]

 

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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!

Views from the Conference

Some more pictures from the 2013 National Conference on Volunteering and Service in Washington DC.

Becca, Shaquita, and Kiona participating in a service project at the conference.

Becca, Shaquita, and Kiona participating in a service project at the conference.

Shaquita working hard.

Shaquita working hard.

A few of the supplies put together by the volunteers at the conference.

A few of the supplies put together by the volunteers at the conference.

Our fearless leader posing with the "AmeriCorpse."

Our fearless leader posing with the “AmeriCorpse.”

Group photo.

This isn't our whole group, but it's a lot of us.

Group photo at the Midwest Food Bank, January 2013.