When disaster strikes, who ya gonna’ call?
The first answer to most peoples’ lips would be the American Red Cross. From setting up shelters after the recent ice storm to holding blood drives to teaching life-saving classes, this organization is there when area residents need help.
But, said Rachell Lipker, Red Cross executive director for Central and Western Nebraska, they rely on volunteers and volunteers are in short supply. “We are always looking for people to come in and be trained to respond when need arises.”
Volunteers constitute about 90 percent of the American Red Cross workforce. Volunteers make it possible to respond to nearly 70,000 disasters nationally every year, from home and apartment fires to tornadoes.
Lipker said the agency had about 400,000 volunteers nationally last year. “And, every year, the victims of nearly 70,000 disasters rely on us.”
Although based in Omaha, Lipker works closely with her Kansas counterparts. Kansas, Nebraska and southwest Iowa fall into on Red Cross region which served over 4,000 families last year.
Closer to home, Lipker said there were just under 300 volunteers in central and western Kansas in 2016.
There is a misconception, said Mick Ryan, senior specialist for volunteer services in central and western Kansas and Nebraska. “We not first responders. We are there to provide support and comfort.”
Red Cross volunteers help in five different areas, Ryan said. These include:
• Volunteer management – Assist with volunteer recruitment, placement, record keeping and recognition.
• Disaster services – Provide food, shelter, comfort and home for families affected by major disasters such as fire, hurricanes and tornadoes.
• Disaster Action Team – Volunteers need to respond to single-family fires with a disaster action team supervisor.
• Disaster preparedness presenter – Educate individuals and groups on how to be prepared before a disaster occurs
• Public affairs – During disasters, tell the Red Cross story to the community.
Adult volunteers must be at least 18 years old. Volunteers who are 14 to 18 years old are encouraged to join our youth volunteer programs, which allow youth to get their schools and communities prepared for disaster.
Volunteers must undergo a basic background check, Ryan said. But, those under 18 are not required are exempt.
Background checks have been an area of focus at the American Red Cross and encouraged for many years. However, after the fraud and waste that occurred during our work aiding those affected by the hurricanes of 2005, it was decided that mandatory background checks on all employees and volunteers were necessary.
Time commitments vary according to the area in which you choose to volunteer, Ryan said. Many volunteers work regular weekly or monthly shifts.
Others choose to maintain their training and respond only to major disasters. Ryan said the agency does its best to accommodate the wishes and constraints of the volunteer.
The easiest way to start the volunteer ball rolling is to viist redcross.org/volunteer, Lipker said. The site will allow the individual to screen their interests and find the best fit.
One can also call 1-800-red-cross.