Story and Photos by Michele Maki, American Red Cross
“Semper Gumby! That’s my motto.” Tirtza Pearl, a Red Cross Volunteer from the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter currently deployed to the Oroville Spillway Incident, shares her philosophy and why working as a Red Cross Volunteer is so important to her life.
“I think my path to the Red Cross began back when I was living just outside of Anchorage and experienced the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake. The Red Cross response was incredible.” Later in life, Pearl experienced another series of disasters, the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 and the Oakland Hills Firestorm of 1991. “I saw the good work of the Red Cross all those years, and I now wanted to be a part of it.” Pearl showed up at her chapter office to help and was put to work answering phones. “I just kept coming back, day after day. I guess the staff had a lot of faith in me, because they then put me in charge of the switchboard. That was my beginning with the Red Cross and I’ve never left. That was 26 years ago.”
Since then, Pearl has volunteered in a variety of capacities: sheltering, client casework, damage assessment, and more. “I’ve done a little bit of everything and met lots of different people in the Red Cross. Being flexible is the key.” Pearl explains. “When I deploy to a disaster operation, I may be asked to help with feeding or sheltering one day and client casework the next. It’s all about the needs of those we are serving. They are in need and we are there to help.”
About three years ago, Pearl was on a deployment when someone put a sign over her desk that read: Semper Gumby “I loved that-always flexible! That fit my philosophy perfectly.” Gumby was a popular flexible clay animation figure with a show of his own in the early 60’s and again in the 80’s on television. “Gumby was always kind, agreeable and VERY flexible….literally.” Pearl explains. “Semper means ‘always’. So, ‘Semper Gumby’ is just perfect. What a great motto for Red Crossers, especially for deployments, where remaining flexible is so important.”
Pearl truly lives that motto when volunteering too. “I’m happy to do and be wherever I’m needed, and I take my Gumby (who now sports an official Red Cross pin!) with me. This is his 4th deployment. He reminds me to stay cheerful and flexible and he’s a great icebreaker in meeting new volunteers and making new friends in the Red Cross.” Pearl picks up her Gumby and continues, “He doesn’t say much, but his message is clear: stay flexible…….semper Gumby!”