Just before noon on Sunday, dozens of shelter volunteers are getting ready to serve a lunch of grilled chicken, corn and peas in the basement of the First Baptist Church in Americus, Ga. The plates are out, napkins are on the tables and Kenyota Peterson stands ready behind 19 coolers she has packed with ice and drinks to accompany the 246 meals that will be served in the next hour. What's so unusual about that?
Kenyota Peterson, age 16 has been an incredible help around the kitchen and dining area. This is her first experience as a Red Cross volunteer and she is a role model for hard work and cheerful spirit.
(Photo Credit: Lee Yamada)
Kenyota Peterson is 16 years old.
Kenyota is just one of several young volunteers who have been an important part of shelter operations since a string of deadly tornadoes swept through this part of Georgia three days ago. But it's no accident that Kenyota and the other young faces are here.
Leisa Cross, executive director of the Middle Flint chapter of the American Red Cross, has spent years cultivating young people in the five counties her chapter serves.
“For 13 years, we have started with a First Aid for Children Today course for second graders, followed by Masters of Disasters for third graders and Basic Aid Training for fourth graders,” Cross said.
Cross credits this early exposure to American Red Cross culture as part of the reason her chapter has 562 volunteers, many of them young.
“I've been doing this so long, I'm seeing second generation children in the classes,” Cross said.
As a graduate of her fourth grade Basic Aid Training, Kenyota was ready two years later when her friend began to choke on a piece of candy on the playground at school.
“I was in the sixth grade, and my friend had his hands on his neck, and I wondered what was happening. Then I saw he was choking,” Kenyota said. “I took off his book bag and gave him the Heimlich Maneuver. I had to think fast. I learned how to do the Heimlich at the BAT program.”
Kenyota is credited with saving her friend's life.
When tornadoes tore through Kenyota's hometown of Americus, she knew she had to help, and she knew where to go.
“I've been at the shelter serving food, putting the drinks on ice and taking out the trash,” Kenyota said. “This is my first time to volunteer, and I like it. I thought it would never happen to us, but now I know it can. I like volunteering because I'm putting all my energy to good use by helping other people.”
Cross also recruits volunteers from nearby Georgia Southwestern State University. She said students there are always eager to pitch in and help.
Heather Burges who has been volunteering with the Red Cross since she was 14 and her friend Kristin Cook chat with Red Cross volunteer Jack Shock. Both came to help with the relief effort.
(Photo Credit: Lee Yamada)
Heather Burgess is a senior early childhood education major at GSW. She said she got hooked on working with the American Red Cross when she enrolled in a water safety instructor's course at age 14. Heather has stayed connected to the Middle Flint chapter by teaching lifeguard and CPR courses.
“Hurricane Katrina opened my eyes about how much it takes to put on a disaster relief program. I was at home today flashing back to Katrina, and I was thinking about how I could help. I knew something would be going on at my church (the First Baptist Church in Americus), and I wanted to help people in my community,” Heather said.
Heather brought along her friend from GSW, Kristin Cook, a senior history major.
“I'm from Barker County, and we were hit, too,” Kristin said. “I live in a neighborhood that was hit really bad, but we didn't have any damage. So I'm here to help those who did.”
Heather and Kristin are the first faces clients see when they come through the door, and the two college friends help newcomers find their way around the shelter.
Yinyue Yin and Xianolei Zheng heard about the Red Cross on television and decided to volunteer with the relief effort because of the warm way they were treated when they arrived from Shanhai, China a year and a half ago.
(Photo Credit: Lee Yamada)
Xiaolei Zheng and Yinyue Yin have been in the United States fewer than two years, but they are eager to give back to the community that welcomed them upon their arrival from Shanghai.
“When we came to the U.S., we got help from the American people, and we want to pay back the help that we got,” said Yinyue, a senior computer science major, who spent the day registering other shelter volunteers with his friend Xiaolei.
Before she came to the United States, Xiaolei had never heard of the American Red Cross.
“Before I came here, I knew nothing about the Red Cross, but I saw it on television, and now I know what the Red Cross is and what it does,” said Xiaolei. “When something happens, you're not alone. You can find help from the Red Cross. The people around here care about you.”
Xiaolei is also a senior computer science major, and she and Yinyue plan to return to Shanghai after their graduation in May.
At the end of a long day in the Americus shelter, Kenyota was mopping the dining area floor after hours of filling and refilling coolers. She flashed a hesitant smile when someone called her a hero for being such a good role model for other young people who are discovering the value of volunteering for the American Red Cross.
“I thought heroes were just on television, but I guess they're not,” Kenyota said before adding, “I'll see you tomorrow.”
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.