ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)-It's been quite a homecoming for Katherine Wiley, 21, a recent college graduate from St. Louis, who just returned from the front lines of the Hurricane Sandy relief effort in storm-ravaged New York.
She shared her unforgettable experiences and pictures with Fox 2 Sunday.
That tortured place where flood gave way to fire and all hope seemed lost became home to Wiley and her team of 10 fellow AmeriCorps volunteers.
The things they did and saw in their 5 weeks of work have stuck deep in their minds, but they also saw things the rest of us perhaps missed; like 'stars' school and church groups crafted and hung on utility poles with messages like 'Don`t Stop Believing' and 'Never Lose Hope'.
They were beacons of hope in that sea of despair.
“Just seeing those stars, really served as an encouraging push for us to keep going; to know that the people that we were serving still had hope and that we could still make a difference,” Wiley said.
They made a world of difference; staffing food and supply distribution sites for storm victims; processing donations pouring in from St. Louis and everywhere else; canvassing what were neighborhoods to assess the most pressing needs of people who needed everything.
“We helped this lady and her mother clean out their basement, they ordered us pizza afterward. They were so sweet,” Wiley said.
They slept on a military ship off of Staten Island.
“The bunks were tiny, we called them coffins ... you did get some privacy with the little curtains,” she laughed.
Each day she said they’d return to ore of the same; seemingly endless damage. There was so much, it was hard to know if they were making a dent.
But when they were assigned to gutting ruined homes in their final two weeks, they could tell things were changing; lives were changing.
No matter how nasty the work, they did it.
“Half the time it didn’t even phase you because you just kept working and you were with the home owners and didn`t matter...they were so grateful. It made the work with it,”Wiley said. “There were some days I wanted to go home. But I will look back and think of how amazing that experience was forever.”
After the new year, Wiley will be off with AmeriCorps again; this time, 11 weeks in a California desert town. She`ll be working to protect the water supply there. Her AmeriCorp duties end in July.
Follow me: on Twitter@andybankertv
Newark, NJ Mayor Thanks St. Louis For #STLForSandy Donation