Angela Morabito '10 - Psychology

 

Angela Morabito '10 knew she was in over her head when she was asked to set a forest fire, using only a blowtorch, during her second week on the job.

"I tried to go into the experience with no fear, but sometimes it was hard to believe the things they asked us to do," said the twenty-two year old, who spent the ten months following her college graduation volunteering in the National Civilian Community Corps, a division of AmeriCorps.

She is not a firefighter, but is trained to set controlled blazes in wooded areas. She is not a structural engineer, but is trained to conduct interior home inspections at weather-devastated properties. She is not a social worker, but is trained to provide support to families who have lost everything. She does not yet know what she wants to be when she "grows up"; however, after spending the last year of her life traveling from state to state as an AmeriCorps volunteer, she is trained to bring strength and support to fallen communities across the nation.

"I am still young, and wanted to see what was out there in the world. Things aren't picture perfect, and this was a great way to get my hands dirty and give back," said Morabito, who joined the national service program on a whim just one month after earning a degree in Psychology from Curry College in 2010.

When the forces of nature collide and wreak havoc on the ground, AmeriCorps volunteers are often first on the scene. Teams of men and women from across the country assemble to rehabilitate shattered communities and improve the lives of those affected by destruction. Groups work to identify environmental threats and proactively protect endangered species. In collaboration with non-profit organizations across the globe, volunteers unite to address critical needs in communities devastated by weather events, natural disasters, poverty or plague.

"I knew AmeriCorps was an opportunity for me. I really liked the idea of joining forces with other people to accomplish something in the world. I like being a leader and thought: this is my chance," said Morabito, who gave up her job teaching life skills to autistic adults before deploying on her new mission.

The AmeriCorps campus in Perry Point, Maryland, one of five campuses across the country, became Morabito's home away from home just one week after receiving notice of her acceptance. She enjoyed meeting fellow volunteers and training for work in the field, and it was not long before her group was deployed to tackle their first mission.

"We spent one week in North Carolina training to become Certified Wildland Firefighters. It was my first time using a blow torch," said Morabito, who had to pass a strenuous physical exam to qualify for the six-week mission.

Morabito and her AmeriCorps team were challenged with the task of starting controlled fires in pre-selected patches of forest land surrounded by safety lines. The blaze was lit to burn green briar and other invasive plants, which ultimately cause harm to the habitats of endangered species. Some days, Morabito worked with volunteers to light up hundreds of acres of weed infested land; others, she stood guard on the perimeter of the burn to prevent rogue flames from dancing across safety lines.

"It was good to know that we were creating a healthier environment for endangered species. That is something I never thought I would do," said Morabito.

Morabito's second mission took her to a southern town devastated by a severe tornado just months earlier.

"We never knew where they were going to send us. That was the hardest part: not knowing," said Morabito.

The people of Tuscaloosa, Alabama were still in shock when Morabito and her team arrived to assist Temporary Emergency Services, a non-profit organizing tornado relief efforts in the disaster zone. Almost immediately, Morabito took a leading role operating a donation warehouse where victims of the storm found donated clothing, toiletries, cleaning supplies and other essential items after registering through FEMA. As she guided victims through the department store style donation center to help them find what they lost, Morabito said it was hard to hear their stories of survival.

She also spent time working with Corps members to remove debris from the path of destruction. Morabito said that it took far more courage to work in the field, due to the shock that came from witnessing such destruction.

"You would be shoveling and then you would find people's photos and personal items. Suddenly, you could not believe that these were once someone's belongings and that you were cleaning up their house that had been destroyed," said Morabito.

The tiny mountain town of Prattsville, New York was nearly washed out to sea when Hurricane Irene tore through the Catskills in the summer of 2011. Homes battered by strong winds were left broken and flooded, as the locals sought shelter while a dangerous river of mud and debris barreled through town. Once rescue efforts ceased and victims were safe, Morabito and her Corps team moved in to assist the Huntersfield Christian Training Centre's recovery efforts in a low-income neighborhood.

Morabito's first task was to organize the hundreds of volunteers flowing in from across the country. She quickly learned which homes in the area were most in need of "mudding out" and structural evaluation, and worked with professionals in the field to distribute volunteers accordingly.

"It was great to be able to gain those leadership skills. I learned how to manage in an emergency and how to be sure that volunteers are successful working together. Without our help, I think the homeowners would have had to move away from their homes," said Morabito, who spent two months in Prattsville.

When Morabito was not behind her desk, she rolled up her sleeves, grabbed a shovel and dug in to help with the dirty work. Often, because of her dainty size, she was asked to climb through rickety crawl spaces to pull out insulation and scoop out puddles of mud. Though at times she felt nervous while tackling the hands-on tasks, she said that she was able to stay calm by remembering that the houses she was investigating were once homes.

"Once you meet the homeowner, and see their face, you just really want to get to work," said Morabito.

When Angela Morabito entered Ameri-Corps after college, she was a young woman with a genuine desire to help others. Today, she is a young woman who took a chance, ventured outside her comfort zone, and worked hard to significantly improve the lives of hundreds across the nation. Morabito is ready for more, and has signed up to return for another term as a team leader. Though she does not know what challenges lie ahead, she says that she is excited to inspire others to have no fear.

"We all come from different backgrounds, and all have different levels of education, but when we join together we can really get things done."

 
 
 
 

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