“I saw a Red Cross commercial and wondered if I could be a Red Cross volunteer,” Robert recalled, speaking from the Red Cross chapter in Sacramento.
It has been a whirlwind 10 months for Robert Smith, who joined the American Red Cross Michigan Region as a disaster services volunteer in September 2021.
In January he was deployed to western Kentucky after a series of tornadoes damaged thousands of homes, businesses and churches. In May, Robert was dispatched to provide disaster relief to the local Red Cross team helping those displaced by wildfires in New Mexico. Currently, he’s in the wildfire-stricken area of Sacramento, Calif. assisting the local Red Cross team.
The story of how he got here is uplifting. He had a light-bulb moment watching TV at his home in Midland.
Robert had retired in 2019 after a career as a telecommunications technician and was looking for something to fill the void. He was also hurting after the tragic passing of his two sons 10 months part between March 2020 and January 2021.
“I have to keep busy,” he said. “I get bored easily.”
In Sacramento Robert is part of the logistics transportation team, which maintains the Red Cross fleet of vehicles and rental vehicles used during a disaster relief operation. “We make sure vehicles are accounted for and are available when and if someone needs them,” he said, adding that he did a similar thing on his deployment in New Mexico. He still remembers the stench of the burning wildfires there.
“You could smell the smoke every morning,” he said.
The memories of the Kentucky deployment are fresh, too. He arrived on New Year’s Day and was part of the four-person case worker team. The team prepared anywhere from a dozen to three dozen care reports a day of people displaced by the tornadoes to ensure they were matched with Red Cross community resources and assistance. One day his disaster action team supervisor invited him on a tour of the destruction. “I’ve been in bad storms but nothing like that,” he said.
Robert, a U.S. Navy veteran, is emphatic about the role of the Red Cross volunteer. It’s about the humanitarian service he and other volunteers provide at disaster relief operations in communities across the country and in your neighborhood. He’s also forged friendships with fellow Red Crossers he’s worked alongside.
“It’s an eye-opening experience and a gratifying experience, he said. “If you are about helping people, you want to be here.”
To learn more about volunteer opportunities, visit www.redcross.org.