My Turn: Volunteering to help others changed my life

Published 12:41 am Monday, May 8, 2017

By McKenzie Ward
After graduating from South Rowan High in 2015, I attended Rowan Cabarrus Community College for one semester. College seemed to be the standard route, but it just did not feel like the path I wanted to follow at the time. A passion that had been brewing for many years is to serve others.

Ready to serve in any role, I took a year to do just that. AmeriCorps NCCC  (National Civilian Community Corps) changed my world. I joined in July 2016 with a 10-month commitment. I was assigned to the Southern Region in Vicksburg, Miss., one of five campuses in the U.S.

Selected to be part of the subsection FEMA Corps, I spent one month of training involving diversity awareness, disaster preparedness, public speaking and professional development, and I learned about FEMA and its mission.

After training, I was assigned to a FEMA Corps team, Key One, whose specialty was being a Disaster Survivor Assistance Team (DSAT). During a presidentially declared disaster, our job was to assist survivors in the registration process for federal assistance. My team consisted of members from all across the U.S., one team leader and six corps members.

  We were sent on a total of three disasters throughout the year. We were called for assistance to the flood in Louisiana, Hurricane Matthew in areas of Florida and the double tornadoes that struck in Southern Georgia.

It was humbling to have experienced this. I have personally never been through a natural disaster and could not bear to imagine how my family of six would react. Interacting with the survivors of these events give me hope. Folks were always mentioning how the disaster finally brought the community together but were saddened that this was the reason.

After these experiences, I plan to be more involved and engage more in the community for more positive reasons. We are living in this world and our communities together, why not in harmony?

Joining this program has been an eye opener. Seeing the young adults (ages 18-24) and the future of America doing only positive work for their country, and the willingness to interact with one another despite differences in their economic, social and cultural backgrounds, speaks volumes.

I only wish I had heard of this program during my years in high school. The program gives students another option, one that is beneficial for their resumes, while they’re also earning an education award (equivalent to this year’s Pell Grant), a yearly stipend of approximately $4,000, all while traveling and strengthening communities. Our meal allowance was $4.75 per day per person. We combined our allowances weekly to go grocery shopping. A team really grows to be family while living in tight quarters!

I have completely fallen in love with volunteer service. I can’t wait to come home and enter other communities with the new perspective I have gained! I plan to spend the next year in another service based organization through City Year.

I leave you with the AmeriCorps pledge:

“I will get things done for America — to make our people safer, smarter, and healthier. I will bring Americans together by strengthening our communities. Faced with apathy, I will take action. Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground. Faced with adversity, I will persevere. I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond. I am an AmeriCorps member and I will get things done.”

McKenzie Ward is from Enochville.

My Turn submissions should be 500-700 words in length. Please email to with “My Turn” in the subject line. Include name, address, phone number and, if possible, a digital photo of the writer.