Washington, D.C. - AmeriCorps is coming to aid the small Iowa riverside town of Hamburg, as members from across the state begin a two-month assignment to patrol the levees protecting the town from the swelling waters of the Missouri River.
“We are grateful for the help,” said Hamburg Mayor Cathy Crain. “When push comes to shove, the people of Hamburg are always there for each other. There isn’t a person in this town who hasn’t pitched in.” Noting the town only has four employees, Crain stressed how critical volunteers are to the town’s survival and welcomed AmeriCorps assistance.
The Missouri River, a major tributary of the Mississippi River system, is expected to rise to record levels and stay there for weeks and possibly months. Heavy winter snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains, as well as heavy spring rains, have caused the high water levels, which could remain through mid-August, causing strain on levee systems. This has called for creative new deployments for national service members in the state.
“This is the first time that we are aware of that AmeriCorps has ever been utilized to monitor levees and with the National Guard stretched thin our members are proud to be able to step in and provide assistance in a mission of such importance,” said Adam Lounsbury, Executive Director of the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service, which oversees AmeriCorps programs in the state.
In addition to the levee patrols, AmeriCorps members have been active in other flood prevention and education efforts this spring. In Council Bluffs, 56 AmeriCorps members joined the Iowa Disaster Behavioral Response Team, a branch of the Iowa Department of Human Services, to canvass more than 5,000 households on safe evacuation procedures. The canvass educated many residents who did not even know they were at risk for flooding.
Iowa Keepers of the Land AmeriCorps members also deployed to Sioux City to help manage the Siouxland Volunteer Center, which recently opened with support from the Volunteer Generation Fund from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). AmeriCorps managed more than 2,670 volunteers who contributed more than 5,160 hours and filled more than 145,000 sandbags. AmeriCorps members worked feverishly with local volunteers to sandbag the wells that provide the water supply to the residents of Sioux City. They also worked to preserve the Sioux City Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, including protecting a $100,000 keelboat used in a Lewis and Clark historical exhibit.
The DNR’s Keepers of the Land program, with its nearly 100 members, normally focuses on caring for and engaging in environmental stewardship and awareness in Iowa’s state parks, forests, fisheries and wildlife areas, but is on call to help the state respond to natural disasters.
“Our AmeriCorps members are specifically trained to help with disaster situations,” says Dawn Stohs, program director. “And unfortunately, they have been called upon to use these skills several times in the last few years.”
In tackling this summer’s flooding, AmeriCorps is using the lessons learned from the record-setting 2008 Cedar Rapids floods, which damaged 5,390 houses and 1,049 commercial properties. Working with the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service and local nonprofits, CNCS mobilized hundreds of AmeriCorps members to assist in response and recovery efforts, including assessing damage, mucking out homes, connecting flood victims with resources, and supporting the volunteer center that has coordinated more than 7,400 volunteers who have provided 205,000 hours of service. AmeriCorps members are still assisting in a range of projects, including coordinating cleanup efforts.
AmeriCorps efforts in Iowa are part of a national response to one of the deadliest and most destructive disaster seasons on record. From Joplin, Miss., to Tuscaloosa, Ala., hundreds of specially trained AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers are responding to disasters in multiple states, providing skilled manpower and managing tens of thousands of volunteers.
Working in close partnership with FEMA, emergency officials, and faith-based and community groups, national service members are removing debris, sandbagging , running call centers, coordinating donations, assessing needs, providing food and shelter, supporting evacuation efforts, and managing large scale volunteer efforts. For more information, visit our disaster services webpage.