Fort Mill Times

Local woman called to FEMA Corp service

Allison Dekker is in the middle of a 10-month term of national service in FEMA Corps, an AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps program.

FEMA Corps provides a boost to the nation’s ability to assist disaster survivors while expanding career opportunities for people ages 18 to 24.

Dekker, a Fort Mill resident who graduated from Clover High School in 2011, first found out about AmeriCorps right after high school, but decided she wanted to go to college before joining. But in March of 2014, after studying early childhood education for two years at Tri-County Tech in Pendleton, Dekker looked back into AmeriCorps and applied to work in FEMA Corps.

“I decided that I needed a break from working and going to school, to try and figure out what I wanted to do,” Dekker, 22, said.

She completed the online application and Feb. 24, she arrived at the AmeriCorps NCCC Pacific Region campus in Sacramento, Calif, to complete four weeks of training in teamwork, leadership development, communication, service learning and media relations.

“During this time, we learned how to work with our team and other teams,” Dekker said. “We went through something called hand of peace training, (which) involved us learning how to talk kindly to each other and how to solve issues within the team and outside of the team as well.”

In addition, Dekker was certified in CPR and first aid by the American Red Cross and learned about disaster assistance.

During her nearly year-long term of service, Dekker will assist residents and communities hit by disasters, as well as provide administrative and logistical support to the nation’s emergency management system.

Working in teams of 10 to 12 people, FEMA Corps members travel to disaster-affected communities across the country, helping survivors apply for FEMA assistance, mapping disaster areas and sharing preparedness and mitigation information with the public.

Dekker began her first project March 27.

“So far, (I) have been working with the American Red Cross, helping them on their fire campaign and the pillow case project,” she said.

The fire campaign has Corps members increasing fire safety awareness by installing smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors for free in homes in various communities. They also check existing devices and replace them as necessary.

“The pillow case project is one of my favorite projects to do because it involves kids,” Dekker said. “We go around to different schools in the area and present them with safety tips when it comes to weather.”

In addition to educating the children on how to stay safe in a natural disaster or a house fire, they explain the importance of having a go bagthat contains useful items such as a flashlight, extra clothes, emergency numbers and water.

“At the end of the presentation, we pass out pillow cases to all of the kids in the class, provide fabric markers and tell them to draw on the pillow case what they want to put inside,” she said.

During her 10-month term, Dekker will be based out of McClellan Air Force Base in McClellan, Calif., but will travel as needs arise.

“You really don’t know where you are going to end up, but that’s kind of half the fun,” she said.

By the end of the program, Dekker will have completed 1,700 hours of work, the required amount for graduation, and hopes to complete an additional 250 hours of individual service projects on her days off, which will make her eligible for additional awards at graduation.

All FEMA Corps members who complete the mandated 1,700 hours, receive a $5,730 Segal AmeriCorps Education Award to pay for tuition or student loans.

But the awards are just a bonus for Dekker, who said she will be taking away much more from this experience.

“We have all been trained in how to respond to a disaster if our team gets moved out to help,” she said.

“After this program, (I can) take all this training and all the experience I have gained and be able to help out with the American Red Cross or even FEMA reserves once my service is done and I move back home,” she said.