The Faces of a Disaster Response Operation
By Catie Ballenger, American Red Cross Public Affairs
Trained American Red Cross volunteers are working around the clock in California to help people impacted by the massive wildfires which have forced whole communities from their homes. Who are these incredible people who generously give of their time and talent in the face of disaster? In this series, we will introduce you to many of them. For part one of this series, click here, for part two, click here, for part three, click here and for part four, click here.
Name: Dana Goldsmith
Home Region: Colorado and Wyoming
Deployment Focus: Disability Integration
Dana Goldsmith had deployed with the Red Cross 27 times. These deployments have taken her to two different countries and 11 states. She has provided care and comfort to those impacted by hurricanes, wildfires, volcanoes and beyond. Her most current deployment brought her to Sacramento California as the Disability Integration team manager.
When Dana is asked about the importance of Disability Integration, she gave an example from her latest deployment. “A California Wildfire evacuee with severe autism was having a tough time adjusting to life in a shelter. All his normal structures and supports were gone. He was combative, continuously tried to run away and was nonverbal and couldn’t communicate his stress. His guardians were exhausted. We worked together with disaster health and disaster mental health to get the child back in school. We contacted social services to get parent assistance and provided self-soothing and fidget tools to help him stay calm and comforted when he is in the shelter. My team could secure a private room for the family where they could ‘nest’ and create a comfortable space for all. The child and his family are all safely thriving in our Red Cross shelter because of the herculean effort from both internal and external partners!”
Volunteering has very personal roots for Dana. She became a Red Cross volunteer and later an employee because her parents were evacuated from the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “I watched my city come together in an amazing way to support each other. I wanted to be a part of that movement. I chose disability integration because I have a disability, my son has multiple disabilities and my husband has multiple disabilities. I spent a large part of my life advocating for them and a large part of my career learning to advocate for others. This work doesn’t feel like work. It’s what I’m meant to do!”
Dana has found family, not just friends, among her fellow Red Crossers. She encourages other volunteers to considered disaster deployment. “There’s nothing like this experience. It will be hard and confusing and feel chaotic and uncertain. But you will be stronger, smarter, better and more fulfilled than you ever have been. You will meet others along the way that struggle beside you, hold you up and teach you things. It’s a beautiful, life-changing experience that will change the course of your life for good.”
Name: John Mathews
Home Region: Missouri and Arkansas
Deployment Focus: Community Engagement and Partnership
As a retiree, John Mathews likes to travel. Often he and his wife will vacation to places he has previously deployed as a Red Cross volunteer “to see them at their best since I have seen them at their worst.”
John has volunteered his time and talent on nearly 40 Red Cross disaster relief operations. He became a full-time volunteer in 2012 when he retired. Now he deploys several times a year.
On his most recent deployment, the 2021 California Wildfires, John served on the Community Engagement and Partnership (CEP) team. “CEP is the part of Red Cross that provides network possibilities for our governmental and non-governmental partners. Not one organization has the resources or staff to provide help to every person affected in any disaster. CEP provides a platform for faith-based groups, such as Salvation Army or Southern Baptists, to provide resources to be used by the Red Cross, local, state or national response teams,” explained John. “CEP is a ‘Force Multiplier’ in that it adds value to everything that we do with other groups.”
John volunteers and works disaster response operations with the Red Cross because he can. “Many volunteers are trained but unable to deploy due to work or family obligations. I am trained, prepared and available, John said.
“I volunteer out of a sense of compassion for those who need the resources and personal touch that I can deliver. I feel that my whole life has led me to this moment. I am a composite of all my experiences. And I’m compelled to share what God has given to me to help others in times of need.”
John can still see the faces of those impacted by the California wildfires who have lost everything. He is proud that the Red Cross is in California to help.
Volunteers like Dana and John make up 90% of the Red Cross workforce, responding to more than 60,000 disasters every year. Large disasters like the California wildfires, hurricanes, floods and tornadoes are increasing in frequency and intensity. It’s critical to have a trained, ready volunteer workforce to make sure we can provide comfort and support to anyone who needs aid after a disaster. Join us to make a difference in our community and help someone in need after a disaster. Learn more at redcross.org/volunteer.