Inspired to Serve: Olive Eckstein

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Olive Eckstein was making copies of her resume at a Kinko's in Queens on the morning of September 11, 2001. After serving for a year with AmeriCorps NCCC, she was looking for a job in her native New York.

Suddenly, everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at a small television screen hanging from the ceiling. The only sound was the news broadcast. And she knew her life had changed after that moment.

Firefighters fly an American flag by suspending it between two ladder trucks. Photo courtesy of Ron Patterson.

Eckstein's impulse was not to hurry home and seek refuge, but to go out and help. She felt a deep sense of commitment to her country, responsibility to others in need, and confidence that she could help – all of which she attributed to her AmeriCorps experience.

Having been trained in disaster relief by AmeriCorps, and with prior experience as a paramedic, Eckstein rushed downtown to volunteer. She befriended a group of EMTs at Shea Stadium and traveled with them to what had become known as Ground Zero. They spent the night dousing firefighters' ash-covered eyes with saline and tending to sooty wounds and burns as they tried to make sense of what they were seeing.

Soon, she was stationed at a nearby elementary school that had become a respite site for the firefighters, police officers, and steel workers who labored intensively at Ground Zero. She worked daily shifts serving food, supporting disaster workers, and organizing supplies to help sustain the recovery process.

Eckstein spent the next several weeks foregoing job interviews and social opportunities because she felt a deep obligation to help those in need.

“Volunteering as an AmeriCorps alum at Ground Zero was an incredible opportunity in the face of such a tragedy,” she said. “Just like AmeriCorps continues to do, it impacted my life in many immeasurable ways, and gave me the opportunity to be on the scene and help our nation's heroes in one of our darkest days.”

Now an MD, Dr. Eckstein has continued her path in public service in the medical field, serving as a Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Fellow in Houston, Texas.

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