Posts tagged ‘volunteer’
Lucy is proving to be a perfect commuter bike for me – functional, comfortable, versatile. And appropriately red enough for my trips into the Red Cross office (I swear this never even crossed my mind when I was choosing her paint color).
On a national level, the Red Cross is making preparations for the possible landfall of Isaac. It’s fascinating to see the process unfold, the planning, the deployment of material and human resources – and the ways that numerous local Chapters contribute to the response. While I have chosen not to be available for deployment at this time due to some personal scheduling conflicts, I continue to stay busy locally with our DAT team and working with new volunteers – work that I enjoy very much.
The continuing reorganizational changes surrounding our local Chapter can be frustrating at times. While many of the changes to our service model make sense, and should ultimately provide more efficient delivery, the plan for implementation (internally) has not always been so well thought out – and this can be very difficult for a workforce of volunteers.
At the end of the day, I often have to step back and ask myself: are we helping to the people who need our assistance? The answer, thankfully, is yes. Ultimately, this is all that really matters – whether it involves responding to house and apartment fires here at home, or providing relief to our clients after a hurricane. At the end of the day, I know we have helped.
I get on my bike and ride home, thankful for the chance to unwind and mentally re-evaluate the day to the soothing rhythm of my pedals strokes … and hope that storms, near and far, change course.
You know you’re battling a decent headwind when you have to pedal going downhill. Such was the case for the day’s Utilitaire ride (which actually took place yesterday, but I was to lazy to post last night).
The destination was to be #1: Work. And while I am not technically employed by the Red Cross, my volunteer “job” with them is about as close as I get to having to go “to work”. Heading out today I knew there was rain in the forecast, so as most cyclists know, the best insurance against having it actually rain is to pack rain gear. I also decided to just leave the “real” camera at home, as I didn’t want to mess with waterproofing measures (and I apologize in advance for another series of iPhonography in this post, as well my lengthiness today … hit the delete button if you wish.)
I battled a nasty headwind all the way in. Gusty, brutal and not so much fun. Decided to stop for coffee and catch up on a little bit of reading before hitting the office.
From coffee stop to the office, the scenery is always fascinating to me. I like riding through the old industrial district, passing by the old Hardwick Woolen Mill. Last month, a fire destroyed the Cleveland Chair Company. The reports have pointed to arson. Demolition of the remnants of the building(s) have turned the scene into a huge and textured pile of ruins. (And at this point I was hitting myself for not bringing along my other camera).
riding by the ruins of the Cleveland Chair Co. and the old Hardwick Woolen Mill
I spent the rest of the day at the office, scrubbing disaster response case files – making sure the paperwork is in order and that all of the information has been correctly entered into the computer system. While I was at the office, I got some very sad and troubling news that had been announced the day before. Restructuring and funding cuts from both the American Red Cross and United Way are eliminating key positions in our Chapter. Our tiny paid staff has now been reduced to two. Two.
The Bradley County Emergency Aid (funded by United Way, closely connected with our Red Cross Chapter work) has been cut, along with the women who have worked so tirelessly helping people in crisis in our community. Just as troubling, we are losing our ARC Volunteer Coordinator – the amazing woman who schedules our disaster team rotations, recruits and arranges for training of our volunteers, and holds our volunteer staff together at the seams. It’s shocking, troubling, and I can’t even begin to envision what the future holds for our local Chapter. It is difficult enough to recruit capable, willing and trained volunteers to fill all of the positions – from teaching CPR/First Air/AED to fundraising to disaster response – but if they expecting the volunteer coordination duties to be taken over by our stretched-too-thin volunteer staff, I can’t even begin to imagine what is to come. I think it spells disaster, ironically.
Needless to say, it was a tough afternoon in the office. It’s difficult to see anyone lose their job, even harder when it happens to friends and people I have so much respect for.
Left the office and headed back into town in fading light. Decided to hook up with my son (on his way home from tennis practice) and my husband (on his way home from work) for a quick bite to eat. No sooner did we sit down, I receive a weather-alert text on my phone: hail-producing severe thunderstorm warning. Yay. Storms were already spawning hail, lightning and even a tornado warning directly west of us, and the fun was now heading our way.
So, do I attempt to beat the storms and head home as planned on my bike, or do I give up the night riding and toss the bike in the back of my husband’s car and hitch a ride home? I had my rain gear. I had insurance. I decided to ride.
Now a quick word about night riding. I won’t go into a full-blown review of bicycular (I like to make up words) lighting – we have a boxful of various lights in our household, but I will tell you a little bit about the lights that work very well for me.
On my helmet, I use a Light & Motion Vis 360, which I absolutely love. As the name says, visible from all sides – front, rear, sides. Spotlight in the front (with amber sidelights), and blinking rear light (also with amber sidelights). On and off the helmet in a snap, long light life, USB rechargeable.
On my bike, I use a Niterider MiNewt 600 Cordless (which replaces an older corded MiNewt Mini that is still in our stash), along with a couple of PB SuperFlash Blinkies on my seatpost and messenger bag. The MiNewt 600 is a big improvement on the corded Mini; although a little heavier, it is brighter, cordless, easier to mount on and off of the bike, also USB rechargeable.
My own philosophy on night riding is kind of two-fold:
- In town, among streetlights, storefronts, traffic, it’s imperative to be seen. Lots of lights front and rear, top and bottom, and my high-vis yellow jacket with reflective striping do a good job making me visible.
- Outside of town, when I hit the rural two-lane backroads, sparsely populated with no streetlights, and effectively pitch-black under a cloudy sky with no moonlight, it’s not only a matter of being seen, but being able to see. I find that the two-light system works best for me here – my headlamp to a point further in the forward distance, and my bike-mounted light giving me a bright pool just ahead to better see pavement conditions and road debris.
nightriding: in town and on pitch-black rural roads
Needless to say, the ride home was exhilarating. The winds that were my foe on the way into town in the morning had now become my friend as a tailwind. It was like flying home, without much effort. Record time, I think. Outside of town I flushed a couple of deer in the roadside woods – fortunately not onto the road in front of me. The sky would momentarily light up with lighting in distant clouds, and the thunder would rumble a few moments later. It was an exciting adventure. But I arrived home before even a drop of rain fell.
Perfect timing; it’s what happens when you pack insurance. 😉
I have a book by Clara Barton, and I so love her words – they are as true today as they were when she wrote them:
Since the foundation of the Red Cross in America, many direful calamities have afflicted the country. In each of these visitations the Red Cross has acted in some degree as the Almoner – the distributer and organizer – of the boutiful measures of relief that have been poured out by the American people.
Its work has been accomplished quietly and without ostentation. The wreckage has been cleared away, the stricken people have been wisely, tenderly, and calmly guided out of panic and despair on the road of self-help and cooperative effort to restore their shattered homes and broken fortunes; and then the Red Cross has retired as quietly as it came, and few, outside of the people immediately concerned, have realized the beneficent powers of help and healing that have fallen like a benediction upon the stricken wherever that sacred symbol of humanity has made its way.
– Clara Barton, May 15, 1904; Glen Echo, MD
Sixteen days, no bicycle. Sixteen days in New York and northeastern Pennsylvania with the American Red Cross, trying to help people recover from catastrophic flooding from the combined hit of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. Sixteen days where time became a blur – unforgettable, exhausting, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately rewarding.
I got the call asking me to deploy on Sept. 6, and within 24 hours I was on a plane to Albany, NY. My assignment was to be camera-less this time; I would be serving as an individual client case worker – working with disaster-affected clients on a one-on-one basis, listening to their stories, identifying their immediate needs, and facilitating contact with a variety of other agencies (FEMA, housing assistance, local charitable agencies, etc.) to help them begin their recovery process. The Red Cross Disaster Assessment teams had identified nearly 9,000 homes that had suffered major damage or had been destroyed … now it was our job to make contact with every one of those residents.
When I first heard those numbers, I confess it felt overwhelming.
Outreach calls (when it became safe to do so) within the communities often had many physical challenges. Consider the aftermath of a flood: mud and silt mixed with sewage as well as spilled heating oil. When the film of “mud-mess” began to dry, it would become dusty in the streets, and often dangerous to inhale – requiring the use of dust masks.
In addition to outreach within communities, our casework teams were involved in serving displaced clients within the 5 shelters that had been opened in the region. The largest shelter, in the Binghamton University Event Center, intially held over 1,600 clients – including a separate section for functional/medical needs clients (at least one nursing home had to be evacuated). I had never been in a disaster shelter before, so this was an incredible learning experience.
Communal living can be extremely stressful, especially when you have just lost nearly everything you own – and are faced with starting all over again, often with limited financial resources. The social demographic is very mixed. Patience and tolerance often runs thin, emotions run high. It is a never-ending effort to comfort and calm, and help make the situation a little more bearable – all while trying to facilitate necessary steps to find housing, replace clothing, obtain medical care and make application to FEMA and other agencies.
Initially, the Red Cross volunteer staff also resided in men’s and women’s staff shelters – located in the gyms of several of local churches. We had 88 women in our shelter; all sleeping on cots, sharing bathroom facilities for 8. It was a “symphony of snoring” when the lights went out, and I’m not sure everyone enjoyed the close quarters, but we all knew to expect this is a disaster relief operation. I think it was a vitally important experience; it really gave us a better understanding of what our clients have to endure when they’ve been displaced from their homes, and it fosters cooperation, tolerance and understanding on a very necessary level. I happened to have a white noise app on my phone, so I had no problems sleeping – and I had some really great cot-mates around me. 🙂
There are more stories from these sixteen days than I will ever be able to record … and even as I arrived home, the disaster relief efforts continue in the region. As some of us leave to go home, others arrive to take our place.
My heart goes out to all of the residents in NY and PA who have had to experience such catastrophic devestation; we want to do everything we can to help, and thank you for letting us into your lives. And to anyone out there who can help with financial donations to the American Red Cross, I assure you it is desperately needed and well-used.
Last night, I slept peacefully in my own bed, in my quiet room. Today, I hope to take a ride on my bicycle. I have so much to be grateful for.
It’s slightly rattling to think that less than a month ago we were enjoying balmy beach days along the Outer Banks on the southern end of Cape Hatteras – and now portions of the Cape are being evacuated in preparation for possibility of Hurricane Irene making landfall. Today, as I continue to watch the weather forecasts and receive emails from the Red Cross, I find myself feeling anxious … and experiencing that pull that I felt during the tornados back in April.
Since April, I’ve logged over 430 volunteer hours with the Red Cross – a large portion involving classroom training and local disaster response activities, from serving during the tornados to client casework with local house fires. And now (at leaset according to my supervisors and the training staff) I am considered to be capable enough, experienced, and trained in the critical response activities necessary to respond to a national disaster should it be required.
And, very sadly, it’s looking as if this could be imminent with Hurricane Irene.
My hat is now “officially in the ring” so to speak, for national deployment – and depending on Irene’s course and resulting destruction, I may be called to deploy for a couple of weeks in September or beyond, somewhere along the East Coast. I just hope that I will be able to serve well and make a contribution.
Ironically (?) one of the functions I was encouraged to be available to serve in may involve the very stuff of, well, … the types of things I’ve been doing on this blog – they may in fact put me to work taking photos, doing some writing and PR-related work in the field. Public exposure for purposes of fundraising and to let the public know how the Red Cross is serving is a vital component for the organization during disasters, and there is a need for people with the appropriate skill set. Apparently they feel I could be useful in this capacity – with my camera, no less. Who knew? :-0
But if not serving with my camera, I am also ready to serve in Mass Care and Client Casework – activities that really hit home for me, especially after working during the tornados.
I truly hope that Irene will decide to change course and head far out into the Atlantic. I hope that the artist’s house, Sea Rider, and all of the places I love along Cape Hatteras will be spared major devestation – along with the rest of the East Coast. But if Irene should arrive, and if I am called, I will be honored to serve – in whatever capacity I can help with the most. I’m a little bit nervous, but I am ready and willing.
And a reminder to all of us: please be prepared, no matter where you live. Please – be Red Cross Ready: make a plan, have a kit, stay informed.
Today I cried.
We returned to one of the houses from yesterday – the house with the little dogs. Thankfully, they are now being well-cared for and waiting patiently for their injured owner to recover.
We were helping to clear a spot on the property for some heavy equipment to come in and do the big work – moving branches and pieces of lumber, sorting out scrap metal.
We also made an attempt to retrieve some salvageable items and personal belongings – somewhat unsuccessfully, as the debris pile was so incredibly broken. It was literally like “trying to find a needle in a haystack”. Yet here and there we would uncover a small porcelain figurine that was miraculously intact under a pile of cinderblocks and a steel door. There was no pattern to what had survived and what had not.
My tears came when I found an old box of letters – postmarked from the late 1950’s, handwritten in beautiful scrolling penmanship on delicate paper – the kind that was once used for air mail. They appeared to be love letters. The salutation on one of the open pages began: “My Dearest Beloved …” And I read no more, but gave them directly to the person collecting the personal possessions.
It’s difficult to handle the pieces of someone’s life – much more so than I ever could have expected. We tried to save even the smallest items that were intact, because how can you possibly know what might have a special or sentimental meaning to the owner? And to pick up something private and dear like an old letter … well, it can feel almost intrusive.
By mid-afternoon we had done as much as we could at the site, and left to help with a Red Cross van that was delivering hot meals to people in need. The number of people who are able to stay in their homes but are without power (and often water) remains significant. Eating cold sandwiches gets old pretty quickly.
While I am tired, and stinky, and a little bit sunburned … I feel so incredibly fortunate. The people I love are close and safe. I can take a hot shower and drink a cold glass of water – with ice. I have lights, and the little music box that was a gift from my boys is in its place on my bookshelf. My bicycle is not wrapped around a tree. I have clean clothes to change into, and a soft bed to sleep in. I am truly blessed.
Through a chance and random conversation, I ended up with a volunteer crew trying to help several local families clean up and sort the the ruins of their homes. As the damage assessment throughout the Bradley County continues, the need for helping hands grows. As of this afternoon, I am now a “spontaneous” volunteer for the Red Cross (and hope to become a regular volunteer in the near future). I am scheduled to help in whatever way they may need me over the next few weeks.
I also want to make it clear that while I did have my camera with me, I was reluctant to even take it out of my bag in respect for the privacy of the families we were working with. However, after some time together, several of the families almost encouraged us to use cameras; they seemed to want to “document” the scene, saying it was “important for other people to see” what had taken place. And so, when I had moments, I shot as respectfully as I could.
While men with chainsaws and BobCats worked to clear the heavy debris and tree limbs, several other women and I helped clean up the cuttings and helped a few homeowners sort through the rubble to reclaim items that could be salvaged. I have to confess that it was heartbreaking at times – seeing cherished pieces (and simply ordinary pieces) of a family’s like strewn about like an afterthought.
On one property, I met an elderly woman who was combing through the debris at her son’s house – which had been completely demolished. She seemed to need someone to listen to her – she talked and told me so many details of what had happened, what her son’s house had been like, where they had been when the storm struck. How a basement didn’t help. And the terrible aftermath. It was as if she needed to verbalize the experience, and I can only hope that I helped her in a small way by being there to quietly listen.
One of the most difficult moments of the day for me was finding 3 small dogs hiding in the ruins of a demolished home. One of the neighbors told me that the woman who lived there and owned the dogs had been injured and had been taken to the hospital. It’s unclear whether or not she had any family to come and retrieve and care for the dogs. So I went and got some dog food and bowls of water, and the neighbor and I worked on making sure they would be cared for until they can be reunited with their owner. (The Red Cross is also working on pet rescue in the area.)
As of today, the county schools will be closed through May 6th. Two of the elementary schools sustained significant damage and will not reopen before the end of the school year.
My son’s high school will be opening their doors next week to serve meals and allow residents and out-of-area volunteers to use the showers. My son, and many of his fellow students will be volunteering to help through efforts coordinated by the school.
As I write this, so many thoughts are swirling through my mind. I haven’t seen a moment of the whole Royal Wedding – and I don’t care. I apologize for not replying/responding to friends who commented on the previous post – I thank you for your concern. I don’t think I will be taking or posting any more photographs of the damage – it almost makes my eyes ache with sadness to shoot these scenes. (I would never cut it as a photojournalist, apparently).
I also know that there are other areas of the Southeast, from AL to GA, and even within Bradley County, that have suffered far more than the destruction I’ve seen in a few small areas here. My heart aches for all of them, and I hope that anyone who reads this can reach out – to volunteer, or donate supplies or funds to relief agencies. Please help in whatever way you can.
These are the last photos … from today’s efforts. (You are in my prayers tonight, Mrs. Johnson).