Shannon Spollen seized the opportunity to become a volunteer with the American Red Cross after her family was directly affected by Superstorm Sandy in late October 2012. “I knew I wanted to become a volunteer with the American Red Cross when I saw the Red Cross drive down my block the first morning I was home after Sandy hit,” said Spollen. “I needed to give back to the Red Cross for what they gave me, my family and my community.” Superstorm Sandy devastated Spollen’s community, leaving people without power for weeks, or worse, without homes.
As a full-time student at the University at Albany, Spollen was in Albany when Sandy first hit. Her family, who reside in Amity Harbor, Long Island, experienced heavy damage as they live south of the Montauk Highway right along the Great South Bay. “I couldn’t get in touch with my family and I started to panic,” said Spollen. “I was only receiving bits and pieces of what was going on through what I could get from the news.”
After several hours of no contact, Spollen finally received a call from her mother. Her mother told her the terrifying story of how her family was in their house when the water started rushing up to their home. Her mother, father, 16 year old brother, 12 year old sister and the dog had to be rescued by the Fire Department using a pay loader. Fortunately, only her father’s car and the garage were ruined. Two of her aunts, who live only blocks away, were not as fortunate and lost everything. Both of her aunts and their families are still currently living in trailers while their houses are being rebuilt from the ground up.
Despite her mother's wishes, Spollen drove down two days after the storm initially hit to be with her family, bring supplies, and help the community in anyway she could. “All I saw when I crossed over the Cross Island Parkway was water, everything was gone,” said Spollen. “There were no lights, everything was shut down, and it was a complete ghost town.”
Spollen recalls the Red Cross stations set up throughout her community and the surrounding neighborhoods that handed out food, blankets and cleaning supplies. “The American Red Cross did everything in their power to help the situation and I am forever grateful for them,” said Spollen. “The Red Cross gave us hope, support and a smile, because believe it or not, when you’re in a situation like that, honestly, even just a smile can help.”
While browsing through the University at Albany Career Services website this past December, Spollen found the volunteer opportunity with the American Red Cross Northeastern New York Region. Immediately, Spollen knew she wanted to grasp the great opportunity that was in front of her. She started volunteering with the Red Cross in January 2013 as part of the Disaster Preparedness team. “I feel like I’m giving back in a small way to the Red Cross who were there for me when I needed them,” said Spollen.
As part of the Disaster Preparedness team, Spollen educates people in the community on how to be prepared for a natural disaster. She also travels to local schools to present the free “Scrubby Bear” program which teaches children ages 3-7 about personal hygiene.
For Spollen, the best thing about volunteering is knowing she is doing something of importance and helping people in and outside of the community. “The relationships you create while volunteering is extremely fulfilling,” said Spollen. “The great people I’ve met and all the people I am able to help, make volunteering tremendously worthwhile.”