In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston. Less than five months later, Brian Calcagno and a group of fellow volunteers from Team Rubicon were there to help residents rebuild their homes and lives.
Calcagno and the team arrived in the hurricane-ravaged city with sleeves rolled up to achieve an extraordinary goal. Team Rubicon had pledged to rebuild 100 homes in two years with an all-volunteer workforce managed by military veterans who had no prior residential construction experience.
Calcagno, a California Army National Guard veteran and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter pilot, played a key role in this new pilot program. One of two volunteer coordinators on the project management team, Calcagno and his partner supervised 1,100 volunteers, many of whom were Team Rubicon Greyshirts. Calcagno’s job consisted of vetting, scheduling, and transporting all Greyshirts and unaffiliated volunteers to construction sites.
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“We’d pledged to build those homes in two years, though none of us had ever built a home,” said Calcagno, a Cohort 6 graduate of Team Rubicon’s year-long Clay Hunt Fellowship Program. “But we had a tenacious spirit, surrounded ourselves with the right individuals and achieved our goals.”
Military skills aid in Team Rubicon efforts
Success, however, wasn’t without challenges. Calcagno met them with a deep well of insight and critical thinking skills drawn from his military experience. As an operations officer with the Army National Guard, Calcagno had managed more than 70 aviators and 15 aircraft.
“When you start a program like the rebuilds, there are always hiccups,” he said. “You’re working with people you’ve never met, but you grow through developing interpersonal skills. Tangible skills, like managing schedules, can be accomplished and learned. It’s the interpersonal skills that have helped me most in high-stress environments with unknown factors.”
Team Rubicon is a humanitarian organization with a mission to serve people in crisis, especially those in underserved or economically challenged communities. The organization mobilizes volunteers to help communities recover and rebuild from disasters, health crises, and other emergencies.
More than 150,000 volunteers serve year-round with the organization. Though most of the volunteers are military veterans, Team Rubicon welcomes individuals who have never served in the military. Volunteers prepare and train throughout the year, in order to respond to disasters when and where they occur.
Calcagno also overcame personal uncertainties on this journey.
“This was my first volunteer experience,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect and second-guessed if I should even participate. I wondered whether I was going to be the right person to step up and if I had the skills to do it.
“But, once I was in the field surrounded by like-minded men and women who were taking time out of their lives to serve others, I was very motivated.”
Veteran sees himself ‘always serving’
Calcagno and the entire rebuild team were also inspired by the families they helped. “Welcome Home” events were the highlight.
“Many times, we were alongside the families we were assisting and were grateful to serve them,” he said. “Once construction was completed, we handed them the keys. Watching families see the home they never thought they’d see again is one of the greatest joys I’ve ever been a part of.”
Following Houston, Calcagno and Team Rubicon traveled to Louisiana to serve those affected by Hurricanes Laura and Delta. There, Calcagno directed day-to-day relief operations.
Looking forward, this service-minded veteran plans to continue his role with Team Rubicon. A member of the organization’s Strategic Partnerships Team, Calcagno administers relationships with corporate partners, recruits volunteers, hosts webinars and schedules events ― in addition to his work during disasters.
“It’s hard to predict the future, but I see myself always serving in some capacity,” he said. “Team Rubicon’s primary focus is serving others. That’s their purpose. After separating from the Army National Guard, I was missing that purpose. With Team Rubicon, I can continue serving in a meaningful way.
“Often with veteran transition, so much emphasis is put on educational benefits, how to buy a house, or navigate medical benefits, but not a lot is put on finding purpose, community, and identity outside the military. At Team Rubicon, our mission is disaster response, but we also help veterans find a sense of purpose after hanging up their uniforms.”
This story was written by Anne Marie Hunter.Read comments