Monday, July 15, 2013

Why I Am a Disaster Action Team Member

I am a Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) Volunteer and my mission is simply that of the American Red Cross: "The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors." 
Mark Bryson, Red Cross Volunteer

Why do I do it? Picture yourself standing at the curb of a home completely devastated by fire. It's 2:00 am in a small Central California Valley town most people have never heard of. Before you stands a young mother with four small children. As she nurses the youngest one, she explains, (in Spanish through a neighbor who interprets), that her husband is working in the fields and she has been unable to reach him. They've lost everything, but thankfully she and the children were visiting a neighbor when the fire started. She has no idea where to go or what to do next. You help her. You give her money for food, clothing, and supplies. You put her and her family in a motel room for three nights, You call her husband's employer to explain what has happened and get a message through. You tell her who to call in the morning for more help. You give her some diapers and stuffed toys for the children. As this all takes place the look of fear in her eyes is slowly replaced by one of sincere gratitude. Once you have done this you will see the world and yourself differently. I have arrived on scene and actually heard people shout, "the Red Cross is here, the Red Cross is here." In the worst part of town I've watched the most hardened gang member step off the sidewalk to clear the way and give me a nod of respect as I walk by.Once you have done this, you will not stop.

How do I do it? I am 57 years old and I work at a demanding job full time. I came to Red Cross with no medical training or experience, but I had an open mind. Heck, when I volunteered I thought I would be stuffing envelopes. When they told me I would be trained in disaster response, I thought, "You've got the wrong guy. I don't know anything about disaster response!" Since then I have received many hours of excellent training, in the classroom, online and from mentors and fellow volunteers. All of it was free. When I had a question, someone nearby usually had an answer. This is not something you do alone. There are always people around you, the best kind of people. A year later, I am actually qualified to respond to smaller disaster, (house and apartment fires for instance), on my own, if necessary. I don't do it all the time. I am on call from 6:00 am Saturday to 6:00 am on Sunday. I get a call once or twice a month. If I am going out of town, I ask to be taken off the schedule. A few years from now, I hope to have time to be deployed around the country and overseas. I'll have achieved my goal. I finally won't have to be the guy watching TV and wishing that I could, "do something to help those people."

Want to change the world, starting with you? Call your local chapter of the Red Cross and tell them you'd like to volunteer to serve on a Disaster Action Team. You won't regret it.

Written by Red Cross volunteer, Mark Bryson

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