My memory of it is hazy, but I remember going to shelters in the early 2000’s during hurricane seasons. At that time, I perceived the whole experience of going to the shelter as a mini-camping trip. My family gathered our sleeping bags and set up in a classroom filled with others also looking to wait out the storm. I remember being told by my parents that we were going someplace safe, and I truly did feel safe in that moment in time even though I did not fully grasp the seriousness of the situation. At that age, I did not imagine that I'd ever be on the other side helping make sure others felt safe and reassured during a time of great worry and uncertainty. Little did I know that it would all change with the National Health Corps (NHC) Florida.
Part of the NHC Florida AmeriCorps program involves a Pre-Service Orientation (PSO) that was supposed to start on September 3rd, 2019. However, due to the strength gathered by Hurricane Dorian over Labor Day Weekend as well as the great uncertainty in its path, orientation was pushed back to September 9th, 2019. My fellow members and I were strongly encouraged to get active in the community during this time even though we hadn't officially begun our term of service.
One of the recommendations for service was the American Red Cross of Northeast Florida. So, after applying to volunteer with the American Red Cross on Labor Day, I found myself quickly on-boarded and assigned to a local middle school the following day. Upon arrival, it turned out that another elementary school was in need of more hands. At Abess Park Elementary, I found myself setting up cots, sweeping, handing out water and snacks, helping clean up, disinfecting and breaking down cots over the course of the 24 hours or so spent at the shelter. Volunteering at this shelter, I saw a different side of the experience I had when I was a child. I saw families showing tremendous kindness to others by sharing their coffee machine and microwave with others in between meals. No one made them, but they were more than willing to share when people reached out for help.
To me, that’s what service is. It is the act of giving, no matter how big or small, to others in their time of need. Service is not just the title of a slide shown on the first day of PSO. It is engaging with your community and going beyond what is expected to lift up others. I recall a moment when the shelter supervisor announced when people would be able to go home from the shelter. She thanked everyone for their kindness, generosity, and understanding during the storm. In that tender moment, I was greatly humbled seeing an elderly gentleman immediately pulling his checkbook out looking to donate. In his own way, he wanted to give back to what made him feel safe and supported. In his own way, he wanted to serve.
At the time of this writing, I have yet to officially start serving at my host site, the Sulzbacher Center, in downtown Jacksonville. That being said, I feel like I've already caught a glimpse of what service and civic engagement really is. Looking forward to the service term ahead, I can’t help but feel excited to continue to develop my understanding of civic engagement and service that I started during PSO. I hope to live up to the AmeriCorps spirit of "getting things done." The process of discovery and learning is truly something magical, and I hope to not only reflect and grow from the process, but to truly savor it while encouraging others to do the same. And that all started for me with service on day 0.
This post was written by NHC Florida member Trung Ho.
Trung serves at I.M. Sulzbacher Center as a Case Manager