The Mount Baker Chapter of the American Red Cross deployed me to Birmingham, Alabama on May 18th, 2011. It was my first assignment, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d never visited Alabama before, nor been in a tornado destruction area. I packed my bag for anything and everything I might need.
Arriving in Birmingham, I spotted another Red Cross Volunteer right away. He was a seasoned volunteer who’d been deployed over 40 times so he took me under his wing and laid out what I should expect, what I should do when we got to headquarters and most importantly to always remember, to BE FLEXIBLE.
At first sight, headquarters was a little overwhelming. Every department was clearly labeled, but hearing the low roar of over 100 people in one area, along with 35 runners constantly darting from place to place was a lot to take in. Once I Finally found the Mass Care/Shelter department, I was assigned to a shelter at Faith Chapel Christian Church (FCCC).
Upon arriving at the shelter, I was quickly introduced to the other shelter workers and given a tour. The church was an absolutely beautiful building. The shelter residents were located in an amphitheater, with a large area that encompassed the cots, and a canteen area along the wall, which kept snacks, drinks and food during mealtimes.
I quickly learned to BE FLEXIBLE. Volunteer’s deployment dates were off-set so there was a constant influx and change of personnel. In the midst of the chaos and confusion, we Were left without a shelter supervisor. The shelter manager, realizing my leadership skills and attention to detail, unofficially promoted me to the position of shelter supervisor.
Because of the classes I’d taken at the Mt. Baker Chapter I felt comfortable being assigned the position. Another lesson I learned quickly was that the manuals from class give you a basic outline in a theoretical world, whereas in reality, you have to be quick on your toes and wait for it … BE FLEXIBLE.
The quality of most of the other volunteers was absolutely outstanding. Without the Shelter team at FCCC, we would not have been able to accomplish as much as we did. Coming from the Mt Baker Chapter, I was used to working shoulder to shoulder with some of the best, most dedicated, hardworking volunteers. It was relieving to meet others of the same caliber. Occasionally I did meet some volunteers that were not meant for such a high stress assignment, but luckily they were far and few between.
There is one memory that will always stay with me from this eye opening experience. A family from Birmingham decided to contribute what they could for the tornado survivors. They had decided to donate their home to a survivor that really needed and deserved it. The shelter team at FCCC decided to nominate a family out of the shelter residents that were down on their luck and really needed this amazing gift. The selected family included a single mother, her adult son and daughter, and her daughters’ son of 2 years old. When
we told the mother of the donated gift, she could not believe it. She was jumping up and down and crying out of pure happiness and joy and she still could not show the extent of what she was feeling inside. Her reaction will stay with me forever. It’s because of these moments that I volunteer for such an amazing organization. I Volunteer to help people in times of need, and to make a difference in someone’s life.