Story by Lilly Watson, photo by Destry Carr
NEW YORK, N.Y. – American Red Cross volunteers of many appearances and backgrounds from cities all across America fill the fourth floor of the Red Cross Greater New York Chapter as they head out into the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.
Leah Seabury, age 24, manages to stand out amongst her diverse peers. It’s likely her lovable Guide Dog, Ralphie, who stands close by on his harness ready to help her move around the chapter and out on visits to disaster victims, helps her stand out.
In New York, on her first deployment from the Raleigh Regional Chapter in North Carolina, Seabury works in a multitude of service delivery areas, including the Disaster Action Team and Client Casework, her current assignment for Hurricane Sandy. Seabury says her passion for public service is what brought her to the Red Cross three years ago when she received Ralphie as her guide dog.
“I love helping people, and if I had my vision, I would work in public safety,” Seabury shares. “The Red Cross gave me the chance to still live my passion for helping others despite my disability.”
Seabury enjoys the opportunity to personally talk to and help people when they are at a low point in their lives. A smile lights her face when talking about her work with the Red Cross. She loves how much disaster victims are willing to open up to her when sharing what they’ve been through, even though she believes their stories can sometimes begin through their conversations with Ralphie.
“When I can tell someone has been through a lot, I’ll let Ralphie out of his harness and the family will start loving on him,” Seabury explains. “A victim might open up and begin talking to Ralphie about what he or she is feeling before being ready to share with us.”
While Seabury and Ralphie bring needed emotional support to disaster victims, Ralphie also is a special addition to the team that can make casework easy for children and parents alike. Seabury says, “He loves to keep children entertained and comforted, which helps parents get a head start on casework.”
While she is fresh to the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief operation, Seabury feels like the challenges she faces are no different than any other Red Cross volunteer on deployment, which is mostly learning how to be flexible and positive as community needs change. She candidly welcomes anyone with unique backgrounds or abilities to learn how they can bring their skills and abilities to help at the Red Cross.
“There’s always a way you can reach out to help someone through the Red Cross,” Seabury said. “Disabled to me means ‘not able to do,’ but I don’t think there’s a place for that at the Red Cross. I think there is always something someone can do to help others and it’s all about finding what that is.”