New Year’s resolutions are often filled with hope, and 2020 has been a great example of what hope, determination, and teamwork can accomplish. The Red Cross is well versed in facing adversity and overcoming it through the power of its generous and resilient volunteers. This strength in helping others in their darkest hours allows us to continue providing hope to those who need it.
90% of the Red Cross workforce are volunteers. There are many different areas to serve in with the Red Cross, and volunteering can be a great way to make a difference in people’s life throughout the New Year.
When most people think about the Red Cross, they think of blood donations. Not many realize the full scope of the Red Cross mission to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies. One area our teams respond to daily are home fires. Home fires are one of the most common disasters throughout the United States.
The American Red Cross responds to a home fire every eight minutes. Who responds you might ask? DAT responders, or rather a disaster action team. In a COVID-19 environment what these teams look like has changed. Normally a team of two would be deployed to the event to speak to the individuals who have experienced a fire. They first start with “intake” to get information from a client to see what type of Red Cross assistance they may be eligible for. During this time Red Cross volunteers can show compassion and provide a sense of calm to those who might be experiencing a stressful situation.
What DAT response has looked like since COVID-19 has been a little different. Instead of an “in-person” response, we assist our clients as much as possible virtually. When we cannot avoid seeing a client in person, we send a “runner” to the client. This is a DAT responder who is comfortable with meeting a client in person. When this “runner” meets the client, they must follow social distancing guidelines and wear a mask at all times. Some DAT volunteers who are not comfortable meeting with clients in person have pivoted to “virtual intake”. This is where they will call the clients and do intake that would normally be done in person. However, just because these interviews aren’t being completed in person doesn’t mean that the compassion and sense of calm is lost. Of course, we would love to be able to hug our clients and let them know everything will be OK. In COVID times, however, to keep everyone as safe as possible, we try to give this same reassurance, while still keeping our volunteers and clients safe and healthy.
With so many responses, the Red Cross needs many volunteers to be able to assist those who call for aid. Luckily, we have some amazing volunteers who serve with us day and night to get service to our clients. Our volunteers come from all different types of backgrounds and help in their unique ways.
Micki Levan, who works with the Southeast Michigan chapter, retired from her private practice as a psychologist and says she “wanted to do something interesting and helped people”. “I was interested in disaster work and knew the Red Cross was the leader in that field”, she says. Micki is a virtual intake worker and does amazing work with the clients she works with. Ryan Wilkinson, a member of the Mid-Michigan DAT team, says his favorite part of being a DAT team member is “the genuine care and compassion people show towards others.” Ryan is a local emergency manager full-time and a first responder part-time. Wilkinson says “I’m big on understanding systems and what those systems can provide to my organizations or disaster survivors. Being involved with DAT, and Red Cross in general, has better helped me understand the overall mission, vision, goals, and resources available”. Roger and Nancy Christ, who serve with the Southeast chapter say, “we have always enjoyed helping other people, both professionally, and as volunteers.” They both started volunteering in February of 2015 and have stuck around ever since. They enjoyed serving with the Macomb County Medical Reserve Corps, Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity, and various other organizations. They commented, “going out into the community for face-to-face contact to help victims of fires and other disasters is our first love. Being able to be a small part of their recovery from a disaster brings a sense of humility and honor in assisting them.”
When asked about how COVID-19 had been affecting their work as DAT responders, all expressed frustration at not being able to provide the same comfort they were used to for clients. Roger says that it is hard for his wife Nancy to not be able to give hugs to clients who are emotionally hurting. However, all know that we must operate this way, at least for a time, due to safety reasons, and are great at adapting to the new rules and regulations in place. They do their best to make sure the process is as smooth as possible for the client on the other end of the phone.
Even in the difficult environment of COVID-19, Red Cross DAT responders are ready to face the adversity. They make the change in stride and help our clients in any and every way they can. They provide hope to those who are hurting and strength to those in need. As a DAT volunteer, you meet new people, both clients, and co-workers, that you might never have run into before. It’s fulfilling to work with people to support and guide you along the way.
The Red Cross can always use more volunteers in every area. Volunteering as a DAT responder can be a great way to serve your community. However, this isn’t the only area to serve. Based on your schedule and interests, we can find a place for you! Whether you want to help at home or in the field, locally or nationally, with adults or children, there is somewhere for you to serve. You can email MIVolunteer@redcross.org or go to Redcross.org/Volunteer to get started. Make this year a good one by volunteering with the Red Cross!