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TMCC Students and Faculty Give Back to the Community

Hands forming the shape of a heart.
Rebecca A. Eckland

TMCC students Lacee Gardner and Carlos Gonzales are doing more than just sheltering in place: during the COVID-19 shutdown, these EMHS students are volunteering to help the community in this time of need. Gardner, who is volunteering at the Emergency Operations Center, is pursuing a dual major in prehospital emergency medicine and fire suppression, and wants to become a firefighter paramedic. Yet, Gardner was not always focused on a career in emergency services. In fact, she had been focused on pursuing a career as a veterinarian until a family incident in 2016 changed the trajectory of her education and career. 

On a recent return to visit family this past winter break, she took a ride-along with the Fire Chief of her local fire department where her family lives in Texas, which further opened her eyes to emergency operations. “The Battalion Chief took me to their Emergency Operation Center (EOC) to see where resources gather in response to natural or manmade disasters, disease outbreaks, or any other health emergencies,” she said.   

When she returned to Reno, she made the decision to enroll in EMHS 200 with the urge to learn more. EMHS 200 is a class that explores the systems utilized to prepare for, respond to, mitigate and recover from emergencies of all types and complexities including the Incident Command System (ICS), National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Emergency Operations Center (EOC) functions in the modern emergency services.

The class was scheduled to tour the Regional Emergency Operations Center on March 21, but given the increasingly grave circumstances, the tour was canceled. A few days later, Gardner came across an interesting article on the current pandemic that prompted her to reach out to her professor, Chief Darryl Cleveland.  In his response, Cleveland mentioned that there was an opportunity for students to volunteer at the State EOC in Carson City. 

Lacee Gardner appears in a news report while wearing a mask.

TMCC EMHS student Lacee Gardner working as a volunteer at the EOC in Carson City. Photo courtesy of a report by KOLO Channel 8.

Gardner jumped at the opportunity to experience a working EOC, and said that “this has been a great experience during one of the most significant incidents of our lifetime.”  As a volunteer, Gardner is working with the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) Deputy Chief, Ryan Gerchman and Strike Team Leader for Team Rubicon, Kelly Cavins. “I have had the privilege of learning the ins and outs of Mr. Gerchman’s job here... So far, I’ve been working in the Operations Section, which is responsible for carrying out the response activities.”

Gonzales, too, has been working with operations and logistics, assuring that counties throughout the state of Nevada have proper PPE (personal protective equipment). His tasks have included warehouse work, inventory management and revising activity logs in the online WebEOC interface, the statewide online program that enables counties and coordinators to maintain communications and to request assistance when needed. 

“This has been an incredible experience overall,” said Gonzales. “This is real-life experience, and being able to apply what we learned in school to the crisis we are now in reassures me that I want to pursue this as a career.”

Gardner echoes these sentiments. “This volunteer experience has truly been eye-opening,” she said. “In all my fire and medical classes we barely touch on the purpose of the EOC when it gets activated and how it impacts these first responders and health care providers. This entire experience so far has made me realize just how important situational awareness is. It has shown me the importance of all of these resources from across the state of Nevada and how they come together to communicate and provide information throughout the operational periods, especially at the state level.” 

Gardner has also attended meetings with different emergency response entities, including the National Guard. She has also met Governor Sisolak. For students who want to help, Gardner said there are plenty of volunteer opportunities. “We are in unique circumstances and there are a lot of volunteer opportunities within our community. Volunteering during this time doesn’t have to be career-related. You can sew masks or volunteer at the food bank, or work in mail packaging.” This, said Gardner, is the kind of work that matters. 

However, Gardner is gaining valuable experience that has fueled her educational and professional journey. “As of right now, I plan on finishing my two degrees, applying to a [fire] department, and then [starting] the Bachelor of Applied Science in EMHS,” she said.  

“Volunteering helps you to get real-life experience...and it feels good overall,” said Gonzales.

For more information about the Emergency Management and Homeland Security Program at TMCC, contact the department at 775-336-4270.

TMCC Part-Time Philosophy Instructor Promotes Literacy

Venters character, the Old Storytelling Wizard.

Part-time faculty Chad Venters created an online video series to promote imagination and literacy for young children.

Recently, TMCC part-time faculty member Chad Venters—who teaches World Religions, Humanities 101, Core Humanities, Intro to Modern Philosophy and Intro to Critical Thinking for TMCC—asked himself what he could do to help others during the COVID-19 pandemic. In his home office, he has a collection of masks that inspired him to answer that question in an unusual way: he could help families with young children by reading stories to them, promoting imagination and literacy.

“Years ago, I worked at the Disability Resource Center at UNR, and I recorded books to tape to assist those with specific learning disabilities. I recorded The Koran, Plato’s Republic, and other long readings for students. I got good at it, and I saw this wizard mask and I thought that I could start recording stories for children,” he said.  He also remembered reading his son stories as a child and how meaningful that experience had been for both of them.

That was how Venters’s character the “Old Storytelling Wizard” was born. The Old Storytelling Wizard is a blue character (literally) who lives beneath an oak tree library. This is the setting that opens each story. “I’ve started with classic kids stories, like fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, and Aesop’s Fables,” he said.

Venters is no stranger to working with younger generations. For over twenty years, he has volunteered with the American Legion Nevada Boys State program, which offers high school juniors the opportunity to attend a week-long leadership workshop that focuses on the various roles of local and state governments. His volunteer work requires work in both the “off-season” and during the week of the event, but work that helps young people to learn and grow is what Venters likes to focus on. 

He’s also no stranger to thinking outside the box. He’s also incorporated puppeteering skills he learned from working in a children’s ministry years earlier to introduce puppets as other characters who can interact with Venters’s wizard, and help to introduce the major themes and ideas present in each story.  

“I don’t know how many of these stories kids are reading these days,” he said.  “So.... in addition to introducing them to stories they might not have heard before, this is my way of doing something that could have a positive impact on the community,” said Venters, whose family is also helping with the show. His son—who is now fourteen—is the production assistant. His wife and mother have donated books filled with fairy tales and children’s stories. His father helped him build the green screen. 

In addition to the weekly videos posted on the Old Storytelling Wizard YouTube channel and Facebook page, Venters is going to offer Zoom sessions with the Old Storytelling Wizard so children can ask him questions about the stories he reads. Additionally, he is open to taking story requests.  In the future, Venters would like to do live readings in the community, pending the lift on shelter in place orders. 

For now, though, Venters hopes that the video and zoom sessions help to foster a love of reading and the imagination in his young audience members. “I hope that this is something people find comfort in, or that they find helpful. We’re all separated right now, but we are still a community, and we are in this together,” he said.

For more information about studying Philosophy at TMCC, contact the Humanities Department at 775-674-7945.