What it Means to Give Back as a Red Cross Volunteer and Staff Member

Written by Debbie Calcote, Disaster Program Manager (Tuolumne & Stanislaus Counties), Red Cross Capital Region

Debbie Calcote (R) provides direction for Red Cross volunteers during a recent fire safety canvassing event in Turlock, CA.
Debbie Calcote (R) provides direction for Red Cross volunteers during a recent fire safety canvassing event in Turlock, CA.

In 2005, like many other people, I was devastated by what I was seeing in the media about Hurricane Katrina.  The sadness and total devastation of so many things and people was almost more than I could bear.

My heart went out to all impacted by this rage of Mother Nature. I needed to do something only I was caring for my disabled husband and couldn’t leave the area. So I went to the local Red Cross office and offered to help in any way.

The director at the time told me I could help by deploying volunteers out of the office to the disaster. So, I gathered what I needed to take care of my husband we went up the road to help.

But after my time of doing that I wanted to do more, right in my own area. So our Director, Jim, told me to take some classes. And so classes I did take…I took every single class he offered!

Soon I was part of the local Disaster Action Team.

My first call was in a nearby neighborhood and off I went. When I arrived the home was totally destroyed, water damage was horrific. I walked through the house with my red vest and white hard hat on. Then it hit me as I was looking at what was there.  Photos burned , precious memories and clothing.

I stood in the middle of the room with the fire department’s Battalion Chief, the flood lights from the engines shining through what once was the front of the home. I started to cry and felt this heavy sadness in my chest. The Chief put his hand my shoulder and said, “your first call, right?”

When I turned around I saw the husband standing behind me, the look on his face I will always remember – shock, sadness and the look of being lost.

I reached out and put my hand on his shoulder and said I was there to help. He would get through this night.

While we usually respond as a team, I happened to be the only volunteer on scene that night. I took care of this family by myself and was glad it worked out that way.

I helped the family that night, and what it left in my heart has stayed with me to this day…

The ability to provide some form of comfort, letting the family know they are not totally alone. A time for them to take a breath. Our services aren’t for long term, but they do ease some of frustration and fear.

The mission of the Red Cross is the most compassionate form of giving to the many people impacted by disasters.

I cannot imagine myself not always being a part of the Red Cross either as a staff member or, as a volunteer where I began.

I think being a volunteer first has helped me understand, work and lead the volunteers that I am so fortunate to have in all my areas.

The Red Cross helps you to be humble at times and strong when you feel weak. But most of all it makes you feel needed and that you are giving back, saying thank you for letting me wake up each morning, and for the roof over my head and the family and friends in my life.

The Red Cross touches lives and truly makes a difference.

Published by

American Red Cross California Gold Country Region

The California Gold Country Region serves a twenty-six county territory including Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne, Yolo, and Yuba counties

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