Nancy Geer couldn't have imagined that volunteering in a shelter would lead to meeting a country music star.
Contest winner Nancy Geer (right) and fellow volunteer Patricia Day (left) toured the Disaster Operations Center.
Geer, a Red Cross disaster response volunteer, spent three weeks last fall working in Red Cross shelters following Hurricane Ike. She wrote about her experience in one of the shelters for the American Red Cross "Change a Life" contest, held during Red Cross Month last March, and won first place. Geer won a trip for two to Washington, D.C., to see country music artist Keith Urban and his band in concert and tour the Red Cross Disaster Operations Center (DOC).
Tour at Red Cross Headquarters
Geer traveled to Washington with her guest, a fellow disaster response volunteer, Patricia Day. While in the city, the pair toured the DOC, the administrative hub for the organization's disaster response.
Although both Geer and Day have worked on many disasters-they just responded to wildfires in northern California, in fact-this was their first visit to Red Cross national headquarters. The two got to see firsthand how the many Red Cross disaster response functions-including logistics, sheltering, mass care, mental health services and communications-are supported.
While touring the center, Geer and Day related several of their own experiences, most of which aren't the big disasters that end up on national news (such as the hurricanes), but the local disasters that still devastate lives.
Geer and Day respond to disasters in and around their hometown of Redding, California, the majority of which are fire related. Geer remarked on the large number of house fires that the Red Cross responds to throughout the United States, an average of 200 a day. These fires aren't characterized as "major disasters," but as Geer remarked, "A house fire is a major disaster to a family."
Ready to Respond
Both Geer and Day have been Red Cross volunteers for three years, but to hear their stories, it sounds like many more. Working at the Shasta Area (Calif.) Chapter, Geer and Day have quickly risen to leadership positions in disaster response.
Notwithstanding their titles, at their chapter, "We all do everything," they said with a smile. They have been trained in several different areas, such as multiple disaster response functions, CPR and first aid, and preparedness education. Being flexible and schooled in different roles is crucial when you work at a smaller chapter, as you may be called upon to do a job you weren't originally assigned.
The life of a disaster response volunteer can be challenging-particularly since things tend to happen in the middle of the night-but the work also gives Geer great perspective on her own life.
"I once spent a few hours on the phone with the phone company disputing some small charge, and then right after, I spoke to someone whose house burned down. That really made me rethink my priorities," Geer said.
For this week, Geer and Day will enjoy being in Washington, D.C. Soon they will return to being on call-for their community, their state or wherever they are needed.
About the Change a Life Contest
More than 2,000 people submitted their stories to the contest, held during Red Cross Month in March, describing how a Red Cross experience changed their life or someone else's life.
The backstage passes and concert tickets for the grand prize winner were generously donated by country music artist Keith Urban.
For volunteer opportunities in your area, use the ZIP code function on the home page of RedCross.org.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation's blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.