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Volunteer Brings Disaster Skills to Thousands of Arkansans
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Claire MIlesi
December 6, 2006

Cheryl K. Schmidt is one of those incredible Red Cross volunteers. By profession, Dr. Schmidt teaches at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences College of Nursing in Little Rock, Ark. By avocation, she serves as the Arkansas State Nurse Liaison for the American Red Cross.

“I think the Red Cross is the premiere organization in the important role of helping people prepare for and respond to disasters,” said Schmidt, who is responsible for recruiting Arkansas nurse volunteers and also serves as a disaster volunteer.

Every year, Dr. Cheryl Schmidt teaches more than 3,000 Arkansans how to be prepared, such as getting or buying and custmizing an emergency supplies kit like the one she is holding. (Photo credit: Rusty Hubbard/American Red Cross)
Every year, Dr. Cheryl Schmidt teaches more than 3,000 Arkansans how to be prepared, such as getting or buying and custmizing an emergency supplies kit like the one she is holding. (Photo credit: Rusty Hubbard/American Red Cross)

Schmidt’s work to help people prepare for disasters reaches thousands of citizens and professionals each year. Annually, she teaches a course titled “Preparing Yourself and Your Family for Disasters” to more than 3,000 Arkansans. Every semester, she certifies her senior community health nursing students using the “Introduction to Disasters and First Aid” course. Also, she spearheaded a program through which nurses can obtain continuing education credit for taking disaster training courses from the American Red Cross.

Currently Schmidt is serving as a consultant to the National Student Nurses’ Association Board of Directors as they develop strategies to prepare nursing students throughout the U.S. to respond to emergencies. One of the major strategies they will suggest will be to volunteer with their local Red Cross chapter.

Schmidt began her involvement with the Red Cross in 1967 when, as a nursing student, she helped with blood drives.

“My Mother was also an American Red Cross nurse after World War II, and I have tried to follow in her footsteps,” Schmidt said. After graduation, Schmidt became a certified CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) instructor.

Her best memories of the Red Cross have been the times she has helped with disaster relief. Her first real disaster experience was in 1999, when she volunteered to help after American Airlines Flight 1420 crashed in Little Rock. Because of her 20 years as a nurse in the U.S. Army Reserve Nurse Corps, she was assigned to a first aid tent close to the crash site. Camaraderie with the volunteers and the opportunity to provide hands-on care to others reminded her of her wonderful career in the Army, so she decided to go through the disaster training courses and enroll as an on-call disaster volunteer.

Since then, she has assisted the community during tornadoes, ice storms, hurricanes and other emergencies. When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit, she taught “fast-track” courses to more than 180 nurses and physicians who volunteered to help in the shelters and disaster relief service centers.

Schmidt also serves as camp nurse for the Annual Rapid Response Team Leadership Training Course, which prepares high school student leaders to form Rapid Response Teams to respond to school shootings, tornadoes, earthquakes and other disasters.

“I think we have a long way to go before we sufficiently prepare every American for future disasters, but I always refer people to the Red Cross for information and disaster supplies,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt received the regional American Red Cross Ann Magnussen Award in 2004, the highest honor of nursing achievement in the American Red Cross. In 2006, she received the American Red Cross of Greater Arkansas Volunteer of the Year Award from the Preparedness and Response Department.

She plans to continue her active involvement in the American Red Cross as long as possible.

“I fell in love with the American Red Cross, and have been more active every year since 1974,” said Schmidt. “I hope to inspire future generations of nurses to continue the vital role of the American Red Cross nurse.”

The American Red Cross helps people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Last year, almost a million volunteers and 35,000 employees helped victims of almost 75,000 disasters; taught lifesaving skills to millions; and helped U.S. service members separated from their families stay connected. Almost 4 million people gave blood through the Red Cross, the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States. The American Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.

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