Jen Murphy is the Operations Manager for the Disaster Services Unit at the Corporation for National and Community Service. Jen is a 21CSC Champion of the Year – National Distinction Awardee for 2018. This Award recognizes individuals from agencies and organizations that partner with 21CSC programs to help engage the next generation of conservation and community leaders in service, education and training.
The 2018 Champions of the Year will be recognized at the annual Partnership for the 21CSC Meeting, happening February 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. This event is part of The Corps Network National Conference.
- Learn more about Jen – Click here.
- Learn more about the 21CSC Champion of the Year Award – Click here.
Tell us about your current role.
Currently, I coordinate the small but mighty Disaster Services Unit (DSU) at the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency responsible for AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs. The DSU coordinates CNCS’s engagement in disaster-related activities and ensures that AmeriCorps and Senior Corps efforts in this field are appropriate, consistent, effective, and coordinated.
I direct national service disaster response operations, coordinating with FEMA and state and local emergency management officials, as well as other national and local partners. This includes managing the AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team (A-DRT) program both in times of disaster as well as blue skies. In addition, I support the DSU’s partnerships, facilitate disaster response trainings, and support CNCS grantees in all things disaster-related. [To learn more about what the DSU does and how you can get more engaged in disaster, visit us here.]
Right now, CNCS is still actively responding to communities impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria across Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Since August 2017, nearly 4,000 AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members have responded to the hurricanes; more than 1,300 of those members were A-DRTs, and many of them came from 21CSC organizations. My role is to continue to provide coordination, support, and resources to our partners, programs, and most importantly – the impacted communities.
Tell us a bit about your background. How did you get started in national service?
My national service journey began right out of college and is still going strong. I served two terms as an AmeriCorps NCCC member out of the former Capital Region campus in Washington, DC. It was during my time in AmeriCorps that Hurricane Katrina hit, changing the course of my service experience and giving me the base for my future career in disaster services.
In my two years in AmeriCorps, I put blue tarps on roofs in Florida, supported American Red Cross operations in Louisiana, and coordinated assessments and cleanup work in Mississippi. These defining experiences married my interests in project and event management with my passion for service, eventually leading me to my role at the DSU.
Soon after my time as an AmeriCorps member, I started what would become my public service career at CNCS, planning training conferences and supporting the execution of the 2007 National Conference on Volunteering and Service in Philadelphia. After a year in DC, I realized that my heart was still with the communities impacted by Hurricane Katrina, so I found my way back to Mississippi with AmeriCorps NCCC.
There I served as the Assistant Program Director of the Gulf Recovery Team, a new satellite NCCC office tasked with managing the program’s long-term Katrina response and recovery work. For a year-and-a-half, I had the opportunity to coordinate all the AmeriCorps NCCC service projects and special events in the Gulf Coast, including those for media, large scale volunteer efforts, and all-corps convenings.
In 2009, we closed the Gulf office and opened the new Southern Region NCCC campus in Vicksburg, MS, expanding our service area across the Southeastern part of the country. I loved not only continuing to work with long-term disaster recovery partners, but meeting the incredible organizations doing great work in their communities. Being part of the process of establishing a new campus where I was able to interact with AmeriCorps members daily and watch them grow throughout their service year was an extraordinary experience.
In 2013, my then fiancé (and also national service lifer — #AmeriMarriage) and I moved to Washington, D.C. to start our next chapter. The timing couldn’t have been better as the DSU had an open position and I was able to return to the disaster work I developed a passion for in the Gulf Coast while expanding it across all streams of service. In March, I will mark five years with the DSU and I feel so fortunate for the path of experiences that brought me here.
Tell us about the A-DRT program and how you have engaged with Service and Conservation Corps.
The A-DRT program is made up of AmeriCorps grantees and AmeriCorps NCCC that have a heightened focus and commitment to disaster response and recovery work. The A-DRTs are undoubtedly the most experienced national service programs in disaster response, recognized in both the federal and VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) worlds as an invaluable resource during critical times of disaster.
Through CNCS’s partnership with FEMA, we can deploy A-DRTs through Mission Assignments from FEMA. This allows for structured and supported deployments to disaster areas. A-DRTs are requested to support a variety of functions of disaster response, including: Volunteer and Donations Management (Volunteer Reception Center management, donations distribution, field leadership, etc), Individual Assistance (mucking/gutting homes, sheltering, feeding, emergency roof tarping, etc), Public Assistance (debris removal, flood fighting, etc), Community Outreach (call center support, client intake, etc), and Capacity Building (Long Term Recovery Group support, surge capacity, etc). For more information, please visit us here.
Why are Conservation Corps tapped for involvement in AmeriCorps disaster response efforts? What skills do they bring?
Of the 17 A-DRT programs, all but four are Conservation Corps. This speaks to the capabilities that Conservation Corps bring to this type of work. The crew-based model, the standard program trainings, development of both hard and soft skills, and most importantly, the flexibility and adaptability that members bring make them a great match for disaster response work.
Recently, we have also implemented an Incident Command System (ICS) structure in our A-DRT operations. ICS is a standardized approach to the command, control, and coordination of emergency response that adapts to the unique needs of each disaster response. This allows for smoother and more adaptable operations in each disaster, while strengthening our partnership with emergency management partners who also use ICS. Since many cCorps train and use ICS in their own program, this has made the transition to using it on disaster response even smoother. And, of course, those awesome chainsaw skills help a lot too!
What advice would you offer to alumni of 21CSC and/or AmeriCorps programs who are interested in continuing their service to country and community?
AmeriCorps members should look at their term of service as a launching pad to a lifetime of service. The opportunity to spend an entire year (or more) focused on service is something that most members, this alum included, probably take for granted. When you’re in the midst of it, it can be difficult to appreciate the rare opportunity to be surrounded with like-minded people, living in unique situations, and doing good work daily that directly helps others.
I mean, when else in your life will you get to live on a ship in Puerto Rico or a tent in the backcountry? Some days will be long, many will be difficult. But all of those days will be building the foundation of how you can continue serving beyond your AmeriCorps term. You will learn about what motivates you, how you best communicate, how to live on a budget. And if your next job has nothing to do with service, that’s definitely okay! Find other ways in your life to continue that service, whether that is volunteering on the weekends or supporting an effort virtually. Service means something different to everyone, so find out what it means to you and what works in your life.
I am fortunate to have a job that so directly serves communities in times of need. However, as a parent of two young children, finding time to regularly volunteer is challenging, if not impossible. For me right now, service means teaching my children about the importance of doing good things, being kind, and helping others. Whether that is by helping a stranger jumpstart their car, or taking food to a sick friend, setting an example of kindness for my children is my new service.
If you are interested in serving with disaster-related efforts, there are a number of ways to get involved. If you have the time to volunteer on the ground, find an organization to affiliate with (start here!). If you can’t travel, start a fundraiser or donations drive (only items that are needed!) to support relief efforts.