~“We were here before, we were here during and we will be here long after”~
Written by Michele Maki, American Red Cross Volunteer
“This has been my chance to give back, and I’ve never regretted it.” Dennis Lewis, a retired police officer and 5 year veteran of the American Red Cross does not mince his words when asked, “Why, with so many opportunities for the retired these days, why do you volunteer so many hours to the Red Cross? Lewis pauses for a moment, and thoughtfully explains, “Well, you know, when I was a Marine in Vietnam, my mom passed away. The Red Cross convinced my CO that I should attend her funeral. They actually bumped a general off the flight to get me home. I’ve never forgotten that.“
Lewis is the Mass Care Lead for Calaveras, Tuolumne, and Alpine Counties. He leads and responds to disaster calls for the Disaster Action Team too. These calls are frequently home fires. It could be a family that had a fire and has no place to go.
“We provide for their immediate needs. We make sure they have a safe place to sleep, meals, and if all was lost, a change of clothing, and emotional support. Our health services can help the family with any medicines that may have been lost to the fire too.”
Frequently though, Lewis is the only volunteer on the scene. “I could sure use some help!” Lewis said, “I like to train folks to help and I like hands on help.”
This was clearly evident during the tragic fire that ravaged his community. Known at the “Butte Fire”, more than 470 homes were lost. In the early days of the fire, many volunteers remarked how Lewis was the order in the middle of chaos.
“He has a presence, you know,” remarked one volunteer. “When he’s in the room you know it. But he has a way of making each person feel special and no matter what task you are given, you know it’s important to the mission and your own contribution is valued.”
“Some of our local Red Cross Volunteers lost their own homes in this fire. Their loss and the losses of this close community have really touched our hearts in a very personal way. It is OUR loss,” explained Sue Yoder, who flew in from Iowa to help in the relief and recovery effort.
Dennis put it succinctly, “The Red Cross was here before the fire. We were here during the fire. We will be here during and after recovery, which will take years. This is our community, our friends and neighbors, and it’s important that we take an active role in looking after each other.”
Lewis and the Red Cross encourage you to consider taking on that active role by becoming a Red Cross Volunteer. Training is free, and you will be helping your own community prevent and prepare for the unexpected. Visit redcross.org/goldcountry for more information!