Story: Red Cross Volunteers Working Along Gulf Coast

This story is written by Red Cross worker Diane Hawkins.

Hurricane Issac

“This is my first disaster, and I love helping people,” said Red Cross disaster worker Amy Symonds. A Milton resident, Symonds wanted to help her neighbors and working at the Milton Red Cross shelter gave her the opportunity during Hurricane Isaac to do just that.

In Northwest Florida, disaster workers were assigned to 16 Red Cross shelters. New disaster volunteers like Symonds paired with experienced workers from the local chapter and volunteers who arrived from states including Illinois, Massachusetts and Nebraska. This mix of disaster workers from across the country formed a team to provide a safe haven for those affected by Hurricane Isaac.

Heading up one team at the Milton shelter was James Connelly, a 42-year Red Cross volunteer from Chicago, who served as the shelter manager. Connelly’s experience includes working on 27 disasters around the country and serving as a member of his local Red Cross disaster team, responding to house fires throughout the year.

Another member of the team was Dottie Murray from Massachusetts, where she volunteers as part of her chapter’s disaster team. In seven years as a disaster worker, Murray has been on 10 disaster assignments in other communities. She drives emergency response vehicles, does disaster assessment, provides logistic support, works in shelters, and does client casework. But regardless of the assignment, what she loves best of all is direct contact with those effected by disaster.

New and experienced Red Cross volunteers learned from each other during their time together as part of the shelter team. According to Connelly, the team gelled together from the start and did a great job for those evacuating their homes.

Symonds’ experience was a great one and she said she would definitely volunteer again. That sentiment was echoed by shelter worker Steve King from Omaha, NE. Another new volunteer, also on his first disaster assignment, King said, “I’m in it for the long haul.”

Disaster workers who volunteer for the Red Cross have at least one thing in common: they put their personal lives on hold to help people they may not know – and may never see again — prepare for and recover from disaster.

Nearly 300 disaster workers have been pre-positioned in Northwest Florida ready to move to affected communities in Louisiana and Mississippi as soon as weather conditions permit.

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