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Amid the Devastation, a Volunteer Spreads Cheer
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Katie Lawson
October 31, 2007

Snaking up the winding mountain roads of the San Bernardino National Forest, Okay Hill carefully maneuvers the emergency response vehicle (ERV) into areas devastated by the Grass Valley fire. In the back of the vehicle sit cases of bottled water and boxes of snacks, nourishment for weary firefighters, utility workers and police officers.

Okay Hill flashes the smile that has made him a favorite with his Red Cross family.
Okay Hill flashes the smile that has made him a favorite with his Red Cross family.
(Photo Credit: Katie Lawson/American Red Cross)

As he tours the devastated area, Hill stops the ERV and jumps out every time he sees someone who looks to be in need of a snack or something to drink. Handing out energy drinks to police officers or bottles of water to firefighters, he never stops smiling or cracking jokes. That’s just the way he is.

“I just love people,” exclaims Hill. “Any time I can meet and work with new people, I jump at the chance.”

An Asset to the Organization

He took his biggest jump while watching television and seeing the devastation that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005. As he wondered what he could do to help, a Red Cross commercial flashed across the screen, and he took it as a sign.

“I thought to myself, ‘What’s taken me this long?’” he recalls. “Now, I just want to be an asset to the organization. I want to do anything the Red Cross needs me to do.”

In the two years since, he has done it all, from working with clients to cooking in Red Cross kitchens. He has traveled all over the country and taken on several different responsibilities.

Returning to a Familiar Place

His duties responding to the wildfires have brought him back home. Navigating the twisting roads that lead high into the mountains of Lake Arrowhead, Hill—who hails from Rialto, Calif.—passes a familiar street and peers down a driveway that leads to a house he shared with his family 20 years ago.

“It’s crazy to be back here after all these years and see everything that’s happened in the place I used to call home,” says Hill, staring at the three-bedroom house. “It’s good to know that the place I made so many memories in is still standing.”

As he makes his way through the mountains, Hill wonders at the randomness of the devastation. In a natural selection of sorts, some houses remain perfectly intact while others are nothing more than piles of rubble and ash.

“It’s hard to imagine that one house can be standing and the one next to it can be completely decimated,” he says.

His Red Cross Family

With more than 5,000 workers and volunteers from all 50 states, the American Red Cross has maintained a strong presence in Southern California, assisting evacuees and emergency service personnel by providing safe places to stay, meals and water. More than 3,000 local volunteers are also lending a hand—volunteers like Okay Hill.

Hill is proud to be part of the Red Cross and treats his colleagues as he would his own family. It’s because of goodhearted volunteers like Hill that the American Red Cross is able to help so many people in times of need.

“We only have so many minutes on the clock in this life,” he says. “I’m lucky to have had the ones up until now, and look forward to all the ones I’ll have in the future—times I’ll surely spend with my Red Cross family.”

All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. You can help the victims of thousands of disasters across the country each year, disasters like the California wildfires, by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, counseling and other assistance to victims of disaster. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster please do so at the time of your donation. Call 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.

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