Over the last four months, I have served as the AmeriCorps Disaster Educator with the City of Auburn Division of Emergency Management. In this role, I have had the privilege of discussing disaster preparedness and leading workshops with 219 high school students (200 of which demonstrated an increase in knowledge post-workshop). When I reflect on all these presentations however, one speaking engagement really stands out from the rest.
Like all of my disaster preparedness workshops, I start with a question “who here is ready for a disaster?”. Often I get no reply, or a joking remark. But this particular time was different. When I asked the question one hand shot up. I asked the student, a young teenage boy with brown hair and glasses, why he felt prepared. He started reciting a long list of preparedness items that his family owned.
I was both shocked and intrigued. I asked him why his family took preparedness so seriously. A solemn look came over the boy’s face. “We were in hurricane Irma” the boy responded. Hearing this I knew that because I had never experienced such as major disaster, this young boy had something to offer the class that I didn’t have: a personal story. Cognizant of PTSD, I gently asked the boy if he would be willing to talk about his experience. He nodded his head and then proudly told the story about what it felt like to experience such a catastrophic event. His classmates hung on to his every word.
After the boy finished his story, I thanked him. The other students clapped. I could tell that the rest of the workshop would go smoothly, as now the students knew that if their classmate had experienced a disaster, it too could happen to them. Reflecting on the student’s story and my role as an AmeriCorps member, I recognize that my duty is not to tell communities what to do and how to be prepared, but to facilitate and support communities and individuals learning how to recognize their own strengths, work together, and support each other in times of need.