Kenda Kuncaitis and Amy Choi | AmeriCorps NCCC

Kenda Kuncaitis and Amy Choi with a group of AmeriCorps members

Kenda Kuncaitis 
Program Served: AmeriCorps NCCC - 2005-2006; New Orleans, LA; Charleston, SC Hands on New Orleans
Hometown: Boston, MA
Alma Mater: Lafayette College
Currently Employed: Boston, MA; Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship - Associate Director of Programs and Events

Amy Choi
Program Served: AmeriCorps NCCC - 2005-2006; New Orleans, LA; Charleston, SC Hands on New Orleans
Hometown: St. Augustine, TX
Alma Mater: University of Texas at Austin
Currently Employed: McKinney, TX; City of Plaino Swimmers - Bookkeeper 

Best friends Kenda Kuncaitis and Amy Choi served together as AmeriCorps NCCC team members in New Orleans immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit. Kuncaitis joined after college as a way to have some time to learn about herself while still being able to be of service, and Choi joined after being impressed by a print ad. 

Kuncaitis laughed when recalling the way they had to jump right into setting up a volunteer shelter on the first day of their spike. “I remember walking into the room, and it basically happening like, ‘Hey, welcome to New Orleans! You have no beds, no food, and 100 volunteers are coming. Go build everything, go buy everything!’” joked Kuncaitis. “We just had to jump into action. I knew in that moment we were going to be so useful, so purposeful.”

The two were part of the next wave of people going down to the Gulf Coast after first responders. “We were showing these people they matter, their city matters, this matters,” said Kuncaitis. Hurricane Katrina was devastating to so many communities, but through serving, people with the passion to do something about it were able to rebuild the community and turn their sentiments into action.

“When we were there, there were still people saying they should just abandon the city,” said Choi. “The people who live there can’t even imagine that, New Orleans is so core to their identity and who they are. Being able to take actionable steps to getting these people their homes back and spreading a ripple effect of hope was the most meaningful work I’ve ever done.”

Their team worked primarily with HandsOn New Orleans during their spike, working abnormal hours through some hard weather conditions. “There was one day a storm was coming and a homeowner asked us to help, because they were worried about more rain getting into the house,” said Kuncaitis. “We worked on his roof after sundown. This memory always stands out to me because this person needed our help, and without NCCC, nobody else was going to do it.”

At the end of their AmeriCorps year, Kuncaitis, Choi, and Anthony Choi, Amy’s husband who she also met through their NCCC team, were back in New Orleans a week later, and they stayed for many years. “It was a complete redirect for my life, if we hadn’t done that spike I might have just done my year and then go back to working for a lawyer like I had done before,” said Choi. “Instead I developed long relationships with these homeowners, made lifelong friends, met my husband, and I’ve been working for non-profits ever since.” 

“On a deeper level, it helped me realize that I want to be a purposeful person,” said Kuncaitis. “Giving back opened my eyes that this wasn’t just something to do on the side, this really can be your way of life, and you can improve communities while improving yourself.”

Kuncaitis will be heading back to New Orleans this summer, a city she calls “the most magical place on Earth,” and Choi said her and her husband’s next step in their road of service is figuring out a way to pass on their legacy of giving back on to their son. 

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