Derry Area native responds when disaster strikes across the country
Kelly Menzie DeGraff has seen the unwavering kindness of American spirit in the face of some of the nation's most devastating disasters.
The Derry Township native has responded to more than 25 federal disasters, including the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 Joplin, Mo., tornado.
She has seen people — their homes razed to the ground — bring coffee to emergency crews and volunteers.
“The one thing that comes out shining is the compassion; not the compassion of the volunteers, but the compassion of those affected by the disaster,” she said.
In her role as senior adviser and director for disaster services, DeGraff helps the Corporation for National and Community Service — the federal agency that heads AmeriCorps and Senior Corps — connect communities to volunteers and nonprofit organizations when wracked by an emergency.
“This is definitely a team effort. No one can do this alone, for sure,” she said.
DeGraff has masterful leadership and collaboration skills, said Bruce Bailey, director of AmeriCorps-St. Louis, who has known her for about seven years.
“There has to be a culture that exists in your agency where people are out there on the front line,” Bailey said. “In Kelly's case, we've been through the thick and thin of it.”
A 1988 graduate of Derry Area High School, DeGraff is the daughter of Ronald and Geraldine Menzie.
She calls herself an “average” high school student who went on to earn a degree in environmental science from Edinboro University in December 1992. DeGraff was a member of AmeriCorps' inaugural class in 1994, completing service projects as a team leader in the Northeast.
She has risen through the ranks of the organization, even helping to launch FEMA Corps, a 1,600-member service corps solely devoted to disaster preparedness, response and recovery through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Anybody can help; it can be just in little ways,” said Geraldine Menzie, who recalled her daughter's passion for the community beginning during college breaks, when she would volunteer at holiday dinners for the homeless or as a bell-ringer for The Salvation Army.
“To look back and to be able to say, ‘I helped someone,' that's such an amazing thing,” Menzie said.
Recognized for all that help, DeGraff has earned national service awards and nominations, as well as most recently a recommendation to Harvard University's National Preparedness Leadership Initiative.
Secret Service Director Julia Pierson and Boston police Chief Dan Linskey are among DeGraff's peers in the eight-month program that began in December.
Menzie said she and her husband are extremely proud of their daughter for her accomplishments, including the chance to join this prestigious group.
She said she still worries when her daughter is dispatched to somewhere reeling from a disaster.
“All you can do is pray and make sure everything turns out all right,” Menzie said.
DeGraff lives in Upper Marlboro, Md., with her husband, Jeff, and two sons.
She said she appreciates growing up in western Pennsylvania and the lessons her parents taught her that have allowed her to build a foundation based on generosity.
“My dad would say, ‘Work hard, with a passion and most importantly, be useful,' ” DeGraff said.
Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.