Story by Robert Rufer, Public Affairs Volunteer, Coachella Valley/Morongo Basin Chapter
Carolyn just got her 25-year pin. That’s 25 years as a volunteer with the American Red Cross. Decades of service, of dedication, of memories.
“I focus on logistics,” says Carolyn. “I’m a manager now with the Pacific Division for facilities in logistics but I do teach all the logistics classes. I am the Logistics Lead for the Desert to the Sea Region as well as for this [The Coachella Valley/Morongo Basin] chapter.”
In other words, she gets the “stuff.” Things for day-to-day operations, as well as items and supplies necessary for larger events like disasters and emergencies. If what is needed is not available in-house she looks for in-kind donations or, as a last resort, she will buy it. “We always are mindful of the donor dollar,” she says.
Carolyn first encountered the Red Cross when she was eight, through swimming lessons. She grew up to become a high school teacher, and when the coaches were required to have CPR and First Aid training, she became an instructor with the Red Cross.
She retired in 2005, just as Katrina hit and the Red Cross launched one of the biggest disaster relief operations in its history. “I had always wanted to do more with the Red Cross, so I went and got trained in a lot of different areas.”
After her husband Chuck retired, they moved to Coachella Valley.
“When we first moved out here, we played tennis and we played golf, but it’s not enough. It’s very self-indulgent. It’s not very satisfying. After a while it gets old,” says Carolyn.
And it wasn’t just Carolyn – Chuck was also looking for something to do. “I wanted to meet friendly people and to find a purpose,” says Chuck. He joined the Red Cross five years ago, remarking: “I feel like it’s given me a sense of purpose in providing hope and care and comfort.”
Although they do Disaster Action Team (DAT) responses together, they have different responsibilities once they get on site. As the Disaster Program Manager’s volunteer partner, Chuck is a liaison between the paid staff and the volunteers.
“We meet people at a time of their greatest need…we don’t change their lives but we help them get their lives back together.” But that’s not the only rewarding part of service. He continues, “There are so many extra benefits to being with the Red Cross. Volunteers live longer and have a healthier and happier life. The Red Cross gives back as much as you give it…we have the added benefit of being husband and wife because we have a common interest that keeps us closer together.”
“One of the nice things about being part of the Red Cross is when I go on a DAT call, I’m meeting people who understand why I’m out there. It is so nice to be in a group of like-minded people. It’s a fellowship. A community,” says Carolyn. Adds Chuck: “The Red Cross is a great organization. The concept is simple but it is not easy because we are acting in an environment that’s… been totally devastated. We’re trying to put order on chaos.”
To Carolyn, it’s about being the change you want to see in the world. “I wanted to be part of the solution. I wanted to be someplace where I made a difference. I always thought the Red Cross did…we demonstrate to our clients that they are not alone. They have somebody to walk alongside them. It makes you feel like you make a difference.”
They call them the YES moments.
Chuck and Carolyn once had a client who experienced a home fire and was unable to live in their home due to the severity of damage. Because this happened during the popular Coachella Music Festival, there were no hotel rooms available for the client. None. The town was completely booked up with thousands of concert-goers. So, Chuck and Carolyn decided to take a shot at a nearby hotel. Turns out, the man behind the desk recognized Carolyn. She was on the DAT call when his house burned down just six months before.
He said, “I had no idea what to do and you guys came and helped me. The Red Cross gave me hope on the worst day of my life. I’ll find a place for your client.”
Those are the kind of things that make up YES moments.
“I tended to be a judgmental person,” says Chuck. “A huge benefit of the Red Cross for me is when you meet people- of whatever situation- you don’t judge people…you can’t. It’s just another person in need. There is no judgment. We treat everybody the same. It’s about people in need.”
As Chuck puts it: “In the world we live in today, it’s nice to be in an environment where there is no judgment. A non-political environment. No matter what your life style, no matter what your race, no matter what your creed, it’s people working together to make it a better world…it’s a non-judgmental world of people helping people. It’s the kind of world you want to live in.”
If you would like more information on volunteering with the Red Cross, please visit redcross.org/volunteer.