As a communications volunteer with the Red Cross, I have heard and written about several disaster responses and even had the oppurtunity to speak with several Disaster Service volunteers over the past month. While all these stories range in terms of size of the disaster and number of people affected, there is always one underlying fact that remains: the heroic commitment and service of our Disaster Service volunteers. These volunteers are men and women of our communitties who have dedicated time and effort to undergo training, so that when a call comes in for any type of emergency, they are willing and able to respond bringing material and emotional comfort to this undergoing truly horrific circumstances. It is one thing to read and write about how volunteers in Lawrence responded to 3 fires in one night, or how Cape Cod volunteers opened up and ran shelters to support large amounts of tourists stranded on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard during Hurricane Arthur, and another experience to actually speak to these dedicated, yet humble, citizens.
I have only had the chance to physically speak to these amazing people twice in my time with the Red Cross, as when they are not either physically responding to a disaster, or running the gears of the behind the scenes to ensure continued Disaster Service support, they are also committed members of their respective communities. My first experience speaking with a Disaster Service volunteer happened at a volunteer management training sesssion. We split into small groups and were asked to go around and share an experience; this volunteer chose to share a story about one of his responses. While the details of the story were interesting, it was clear from the way he spoke that this volunteer truly cared about helping those displaced during a disaster, and he even went above and beyond to help talk down a person who was undergoing a panic attack due to the trauma that often accompanies such unfortunate tragedies. From this man’s story it became clear that not only does he have to be a skilled tactitian in planning out who will need what aid in the form of basic living supplies, food, and emergency money, but also has to be a shoulder to cry on and provide strength and surety in order to help their fellow man. The effort this takes is truly herculian, yet all disaster volunteers are more than willing.
My second oppurtunity to speak with a Disaster Services volunteer occured when I was attempting to write up her story for our website and social media. She and I ended up speaking on the phone concerning the details of her response, and yet I learned so much more than the simple facts of this particular disaster. I learned the depths to which our volunteers are willing to go in order to ensure comfort and support to those whom we serve. After an unfortunate event left almost a score of people homeless, this volunteer spent hours calling hotels going so far as to call hotels from miles away in order to try and find housing for all the people affected. When even reaching out to hotels almost 50 miles away didn’t work, instead of admitting defeat, this volunteer helped work with each of the people in order to find friends and family that could finally host them. It was clear from this volunteers tone of voice that this level of effort is no less than those who suffer from disasters deserve.
What amazes me most about these two, and all other disaster volunteers like them, is that they are volunteers. They do not recieve monetary compensation for their efforts, nor do they often recieve widespread praise. Yet every hour of every day there are disaster volunteers prepared to drop their lives in order to come to the aid of their fellow citizens. Trying to help get the stories of these heroes’ efforts out to the public has truly been a privilage, and when I have the time and the training I hope to be able to provide this type of support to my community as well.