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Volunteering, Big and Small

Nicole Schultz is being honored as a Champion of Change for the leadership she demonstrated in her involvement in response and recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy.

Nicole SchultzNicole Schultz is being honored as a Champion of Change for the leadership she demonstrated in her involvement in response and recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy.

It is such an honor to have been selected as a White House Champion of Change for Hurricane Sandy efforts. Serving has always been a big part of my life.

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

This empowering and inspiring quote by Edmund Everett Hale was personified by the courageous actions of the volunteers whom I served beside during the relief efforts of Hurricane Sandy. I, along with so many others, was just doing my part. Here is my story.

I started volunteering at a young age through my church youth group. We participated in several volunteer events throughout the year and then in the summer we would go on week-long mission trips. These opportunities fostered my love of volunteering and serving.

It was after volunteering with the tornado relief efforts at Joplin, MO, was I inspired to search for something that would allow me to volunteer and travel on a low budget. That was when I came across AmeriCorps NCCC. I immediately knew this was something I wanted to do.  I had just one semester left before graduating with my Certificate and wasn't sure of the direction I wanted to go in.

I received my Certificate in American Sign Language (ASL) Studies last May. I have always been fascinated with ASL. When I decided I wanted to learn ASL, I did not know one person who was Deaf, as so many who decide to learn ASL do. I have always thought that it was a beautiful language. The more that I have learned about it, the more I appreciated the language and the Deaf culture. Learning about the history of the Deaf culture and how the Deaf people have been oppressed and disadvantaged by the language barrier, made me want to contribute in some way or fashion.

Last August, I left for AmeriCorps NCCC/FEMA Corps. Throughout my term of service in FEMA Corps, there have been many challenges, as well as new experiences. I never would have thought that I'd be living on a ship in New York for a month. These experiences really make up AmeriCorps NCCC. This year will always have a special place in my heart.

 Hurricane Sandy has been a tremendous experience for me. There are so many stories that have touched me. I can remember when we first got to New York and my team, being community relations, was sent out to Breezy Point where FEMA had not yet been. We were supposed to go door-to-door to let these people know that the first step to getting help from FEMA was to register. We could not walk more than a block before people swarmed us and asked us question after question. I will never forget that overwhelming feeling that these people needed our help.

Another moment was while working at a Coney Island Hospital, a woman came up to the table explaining that her sister was Deaf and had cognitive difficulties. Her sister didn't know how to go about registering with FEMA. The next day, along with her brother, she brought her Deaf sister. And together alongside her siblings, my team member and I were able to sign with the Deaf applicant and get her registered. That day will forever be imprinted in my mind. After an entire day of sitting in a freezing hospital, that one registrant brought a little warmth to me.

Once my term of service is over in AmeriCorps, serving will certainly not be over in my life. I intend to keep volunteering wherever I am. I am also looking into applying to be a team leader in AmeriCorps NCCC for January.  As far as my ASL education goes, I am considering going back to school to try to be an interpreter or volunteering at a Deaf school.

Through my experiences during my term of service in AmeriCorps NCCC/FEMA Corps, I have come to believe even more strongly that, although I may not be able to do a lot, I can still make a huge impact in any single person's life.  I encourage others to challenge themselves as well to do something greater, whether it be big or small.

Nicole Schultz is a recent graduate of Johnson County Community College and a native of Olathe, Kansas. Upon learning about AmeriCorps NCCC’s new program, FEMA Corps, she applied and was accepted as a corps member.