Program Served: AmeriCorps NCCC - 2009-2011; New Orleans, LA St. Bernard Project
Hometown: Norwich, CT
Alma Mater: Wheelock College
Currently Employed: Norwich, CT; Mayflower Montessori - Lead Teacher of Infant/Toddler Room
When Rachel Schumacher was 16 years old, Hurricane Katrina tore a hole through one of the most important places in her life. Her grandparents had retired to Ocean Springs, Mississippi decades before, where her family would visit every year for Christmas and sometimes during the summer.
“Many of my most treasured memories are from Christmases in Mississippi, but back then I never thought it would end,” said Schumacher. “I thought I would be taking my kids to that house, but now all I would be taking them to is a slab of concrete.”
Schumacher’s grandmother had become ill and was admitted to a hospital days before Katrina hit. She and her husband survived, but when all was said and done, all they had left was what they had packed for the hospital and a few trinkets, like old Mardi Gras beads, that they were able to salvage from the wreckage of their home.
“When we learned the news it felt like my whole childhood had caved in, wiped away in the blink of an eye by a 30 foot storm surge and just disappeared,” said Schumacher, who says the trinkets they were able to save serve as broken reminders of what used to be.
While she was attending Wheelock College in 2009, Schumacher’s strong connection to the Gulf Coast drew her to the service learning trips being offered to rebuild homes in New Orleans with the St. Bernard Project. Schumacher participated in three of these trips over the course of three years at school, where she discovered her love for service.
Her favorite memories from serving came from interactions with the homeowners. She remembered One memory she shared was an emotional moment when a homeowner was able to return to his rebuilt house to put the house numbers back on. “He was reclaiming his house,” said Schumacher. “Everyone was crying. It was impressive to see how this man could go through so much in five years and finally be able to come back home.”
Working with the St. Bernard Project first introduced Schumacher to AmeriCorps programs, and after spending her first year after graduation with a HealthCorps program, she joined AmeriCorps NCCC Class 19. “It was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” she said. “Because of my deep connection to the Gulf Coast and the impact Katrina had and continues to have on that area, I discovered service in a way I never would have otherwise.”
Schumacher currently works as a Lead Teacher at Mayflower Montessori in Norwich, Connecticut, but she hopes to return to a more service-oriented career. “Although Katrina took away many things that I will never get back, when I reflect on the situation I realize that she the storm also gave me something in return - a deeper understanding of myself, a respect for others, and a love of service.”