When Joanne Alvis arrived at the Red Cross shelter located at the Butte County Fairgrounds, she had the clothes on her back and was understandably distraught. Alvis, a longtime resident of Paradise, had barely escaped with her life from the deadliest wildfire in California history.
She had found safety for a few days in a local hotel but the manager wanted her out, thinking she wouldn’t be able to pay her bill. She sought help at the shelter and was then invited to register on the Red Cross Safe and Well website.
It was after Alvis registered on the site that Red Cross volunteer Susan Park noticed Alvis becoming more upset and agitated. Park’s five years as a Red Cross caseworker and experience as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) Lead kicked in.
She asked questions and thought about solutions. “I then realized that Ms. Alvis had no phone. As I probed further, asking if she had contacted her insurance company, she started to weep.”
Alvis said that she didn’t know what she was going to do and didn’t know where to start. She had no phone and felt lost.
That’s when Park took action. “As I reached for a box of tissues for her, I decided that she should use my phone.” That decision may raise some eyebrows, but to Park, this was a must.
As Park explained, “There was no way anything was going to happen without a phone for her, and I remembered our saying in the Red Cross about working to “get to yes.”
Little did Park realize that this simple act of kindness would transform Alvis’ world. Within hours Alvis had a conversation with her insurance company that provided her with a week and a half at a hotel and thus bringing her much needed peace and relief.
Park beamed with contentment. “That move to ‘yes’ makes me feel so good. I could see how that small act made a big difference in someone’s life,” she said. “It brought this one person from disaster relief to the first steps in disaster recovery.”
As Park turned to greet the next person entering the shelter, she smiled, “I really love volunteering for the Red Cross.”
Photo and story by Michele Maki, Red Cross volunteer