Mudslides, Floods, and Snowstorms- For New AmeriCorps Program, It's Been a Busy March
There are about 180 active AmeriCorps volunteers working in West Virginia. A new partnership between Volunteer West Virginia and the Red Cross is training many of these AmeriCorps to be ready to serve communities affected by disasters. Some of these volunteers have already been deployed in the last few weeks to assist residents affected by flooding and mudslides as part of a new statewide program called Disaster Corps.
The first week in March, homes in southern West Virginia were damaged, and people were displaced because of mudslides, snowstorms, and flooding. A Pocahontas County native, Shinaberry said that when the call came asking for volunteers to travel down to icy Mingo County, she said yes, even though she was apprehensive that she didn’t have enough carpentry skills.
“I have experience cause I grew up in a farming area, so I’m not new to hands on stuff. But I didn’t know what was going to be expected of me. I really don’t know how to build or repair anything.”
Thankfully, Shinaberry and her fellow AmeriCorps volunteers were working alongside other groups, like the American Baptist Men, who taught them how to do things like remove damaged drywall and carpets from homes that were affected by mudslides and flooding.
Another Disaster Corps volunteer, Jamielle Jackson, is originally from Detroit, where there is no shortage of need for assistance. But she says communities in Detroit are not used to the type of flooding people in southern West Virginia see.
Most of the Disaster Corps volunteers were involved with hands on work. But some of them, like Beckley native Torya Cummings, also helped with casework and getting folks set up with food, clothing and shelter.
“It was exciting and sad all at the same time to see the devastation that they have suffered, even the little things, like sliding your shoes on just walking out of the house, they had to leave without their shoes. And I mean, it’s like, minus 11 minus 10.”
Stephanie Yu is the executive director of Volunteer West Virginia, and she explains the Disaster Corps program came about partly in response to last year’s water crisis in Kanawha County, and the Derecho back in 2012. “There was sort of this idea that we needed to have this infrastructure so that when things like that happen we could have people ready to go.”
The Disaster Corps program is a partnership between Volunteer West Virginia and disaster response agencies, like the American Red Cross.
When there isn’t a disaster, these AmeriCorps continue to work on longer-term projects, like tutoring children or helping veterans. Torya Cummings admits leaving Mingo County after aiding in flood relief in the short term felt a little bit strange- almost like she was abandoning them.
“It was difficult leaving them and knowing I’m going home. and you have to stay here in this hotel, or you’re going to have to find family members that can take you in, or just totally rebuild. That’s got to be hard.”
A week after she returned from Mingo County, Cummings was deployed to Kanawha County to help residents displaced from the Yeager Airport Landslide. Some of those residents are still evacuated from their homes in the area directly affected by the slide, Keystone Drive, while others are in the process of deciding to stay in the area or sell their homes and move away.