Brandi Duncan is looking forward to her graduation from Americorp, but before she does she has to make it through her final test.
More than the typical exam, Duncan's final is a grueling five-week marathon of 12-hour days receiving donated goods, packaging them, and shipping them to areas affected by the recent hurricanes.
Duncan, 24, of Carson City is the leader of a 10-person team working in New Iberia, La., about 2 1/2 hours west of New Orleans. Her team was flown from Boulder, Colo., into Mississippi after Katrina devastated that area to help distribute supplies to those affected. Her team was moved to Baton Rouge to ride out Rita before heading to New Iberia to continue their work.
"It was crazy when Rita hit; even in Baton Rouge, the storm was lifting off the roof and shaking the building," Duncan said by telephone. "After Rita, we started working at the warehouse. It was seven days a week, 12 hours a day."
Duncan said she still can't believe the utter destruction caused by the storms and the response by those who lost everything.
"We went to a town 10 miles from where the eye of Rita hit, and it was just gone. The cemetery was uplifted, coffins open and flooded. People were angry and lost as to what to do next," Duncan said. "It has to be hard living down there and knowing that this could happen again."
Yet looking past the destruction, Duncan is overwhelmed with the response from the rest of the country, donating supplies and time to help with recovery efforts.
"We upload up to 200 pallets a day to distribution centers. There are tons of big department stores that have donated tons and tons of shoes and clothes," Duncan said. "We had a 9-year-old boy call and say he had a box of toys he wanted to donate."
Although unforgettable, Duncan said her experience in the Gulf Coast region will be only one of many she takes with her when she leaves the program three weeks from now.
"I joined right after I graduated from college, and I didn't really know what I wanted to do, and I didn't really want to get a steady job yet. At first, it was scary to try new things, but now it's so much fun," Duncan said.
During her two years, she has spent time in 10 new states and driven through several more. The self-described "girlie-girl" has worked at a therapeutic horseback riding ranch, driven a backhoe, packed pallets - and said she has no regrets.
"When I think about how much it has helped me to grow as a person, how much it has opened my eyes to what's out there," Duncan said. "I may be crazy, but I've had a blast doing it."
With graduation looming, Duncan has begun to wonder about her next adventure, which will likely see her return to the classroom, hoping for a degree in nonprofit management. But for now, that is still a long way off and she has other things on her mind.
After all, there are still boxes that need loaded.
n Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at email@example.com or 881-1217.