Americorps team organized 60K volunteers in Joplin aftermath

A team from the Corporation for National and Community Service is being hailed as heroes for coordinating 60,000 volunteers after the twister. Kelly Menzie-...

A federal team has earned honors for managing an army of volunteers after last year’s tornado that destroyed parts of Joplin, Mo. The storm killed more than a hundred people and leveled countless buildings and homes.

But a team from the Corporation for National and Community Service is being hailed as heroes for coordinating 60,000 volunteers after the twister. Kelly Menzie- DeGraff, who led the effort under AmeriCorps, spoke with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp. She and her team have earned a finalist spot in this year’s Service to America Medals program at the Partnership for Public Service.

Federal News Radio asked the Service to America Medal finalists to tell us more about themselves.

What three words best describe your leadership philosophy?

Life-long learner.

What’s the best piece of advice (or words of wisdom) you’ve ever received and who gave it to you?

“You can accomplish anything in life as long as you don’t mind who gets the credit.” — Harry S. Truman

To me, this speaks to the limitless possibilities of team work. It also reminds me to be true and stay focused on the “why” I am doing something.

Who is your biggest role model and why?

My American Government Professor, Dr. Rhodes. It was second semester freshman year and this was my second time around in American Gov. (I “earned” a big fat F during the first semester.)

Setting my sights high, I wanted to replace the F with a D or D-. So, I picked a new professor and set out to erase the F. It was only after I scheduled the class with Dr. Rhodes that I learned in addition to teaching American Government, he was head of the Political Science Department, a lawyer and one of the toughest professors on campus. Just great. The first few weeks I hid in the back of the classroom, but fear of failing (again!) kept me alert and I was surprised to find I found Dr. Rhodes to be incredibly interesting.

Each night I went back to my room and read or reread whatever we reviewed in class. I was determined to get that D-. And then I blew it. The night before the first exam (there were only two tests for the entire semester!) I was out late with friends and forgot to study. I woke up feeling miserable. Disappointed and defeated. Head down, I walked to class, took my seat and faced the test. I remember reading the questions and feeling like I actually knew the answers. I questioned myself. He was supposed to be one of the hardest professors, but I knew these answers. Something felt wrong. I finished the test and left feeling like a failure.

The following week, Dr. Rhodes pulled me aside after class, he looked at me strangely as if he wasn’t sure I was the right person, and when he convinced himself I was who he wanted to speak with he told me that I received a 100 on his test. That I was the ONLY student in his history of teaching who ever received a 100 on one of his tests. From that point on, Dr. Rhodes helped me see my true potential. That I could do and be anything. That I was not in fact an F or D- student. He showed me that by that doing a little at a time (reviewing my notes and book each night) was all that was needed to be successful. He empowered me to believe in me and I will be forever be grateful to my teacher, my friend, Dr. Rhodes.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome (personally or professionally) and how did you overcome it?

We all face challenges every day. I just do what most of us do, face them one at a time.

What’s the last thing you read and what’s next on your reading list?

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, and I just started The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.

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