Chickasaw Nation Americorps Prepares Oklahomans for Disasters

Published March 25, 2019

ADA, Okla. — The Chickasaw Nation established an AmeriCorps program to provide life-saving disaster preparedness training to students, elders, veterans and families inside the Chickasaw Nation service area.

The Chickasaw Nation AmeriCorps Program, made possible by a federal grant, focuses on disaster services.

“The overall goal of this program is to teach citizens of all ages how to be better prepared for disasters and emergencies,” said Rebecca Rhynes, AmeriCorps program coordinator for the Chickasaw Nation.

It is a precautionary effort, offering aid and education before floods, wildfires, tornadoes, ice storms and heat waves occur.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Oklahoma has officially declared 13 disasters in the last five years. These included wildfires, severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds, floods and winter storms.

FEMA recommends taking action now with what it calls hazard mitigation, or an effort to preemptively reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters. It is a matter of analyzing, reducing and insuring against risks.

It is important to know that disasters can happen any time and any place. If not prepared, the consequences can be fatal, the agency warns.

Effective mitigation requires an understanding of local risks and an investment in long-term community well-being.

To address these issues, the Chickasaw Nation and a federal agency called the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) cooperated to form the Chickasaw Nation AmeriCorps Program.

Chickasaw Nation AmeriCorps members will work directly with different Chickasaw Nation divisions to assist in the development and implementation of hazard mitigation plans. With training and drills, these workers will help to ensure employees are prepared.

In local communities, AmeriCorps members will assist with search and rescue missions, which will include learning to handle a search dog and cutting down trees and limbs for elders after an ice storm or tornado, in addition to other hands-on assistance.

Some members will work with child care facilities daily to teach students emergency response skills such as calling 911, or what to do in case of a fire or earthquake.

At certain locations, including senior centers, veterans’ lodges, leadership meetings, and Kiwanis and Lions Club gatherings, members will deliver educational presentations.

CNCS includes AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, Vista, Senior Corps which includes Foster Grandparents, the Social Innovation Fund and Volunteer Generation Fund. It is the leading service, volunteering and grant-making facilitator in the United States.

The mission and core values of the Chickasaw Nation and CNCS overlap in ways which made tackling disaster preparedness together a natural fit, Rhynes said.

Both are people and service centered, she said. CNCS maintains a mission to improve lives, strengthen communities and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering. The Chickasaw Nation maintains a mission to enhance the overall quality of life of the Chickasaw people.

The Chickasaw Nation’s core values of servant leadership, selflessness, perseverance and teamwork are of particular importance for a program going out into the community to teach locals about disaster preparedness.

“I look forward to seeing the impact our new AmeriCorps members will have on the communities they serve,” Rhynes said.

More than 75,000 Americans across the country participate in AmeriCorps each year. Service positions for half-time members are available through the Chickasaw Nation AmeriCorps Program. Current available positions are based out of Ada and Ardmore.

The Chickasaw Nation’s jurisdictional boundaries – within which the Chickasaw Nation AmeriCorps Program will operate – includes 7,648 square miles of south-central Oklahoma and encompasses all or parts of 13 Oklahoma counties. Those counties are: Grady, McClain, Garvin, Pontotoc, Stephens, Carter, Murray, Johnston, Jefferson, Love, Marshall, Bryan and Coal counties.

The program hopes to tap into the ingenuity and can do spirit of Oklahomans to address community safety challenges.

Applications are available at Chickasaw.net/AmeriCorps. Completed applications can be submitted to Rhynes via email at Rebecca.Rhynes@Chickasaw.net, and by traditional mail or in person at 231 Seabrook Road, Ada, OK 74820.

Participants must be a citizen of the United States or a permanent resident alien, age 17 or older and able to work 17 to 40 hours per week. They are required to have a high school diploma or equivalent, or agree to obtain one during the service year. They must also pass a national service criminal history check.

For more information, contact Rebecca Rhynes at (580) 559-0963.

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