Wish Ray Henrichson, 70, a happy birthday and you’ll get a quick smile and a playful, dismissive wave of her hand. She’s busy. People in West, Texas need help.
Ray is celebrating her birthday—which happens to fall during National Volunteer Week-- doing what she does best. She’s volunteering with the American Red Cross.
Ray and her husband, R.J., volunteer together. The couple, from Hamshire, Texas, deployed to West just after the April 17 explosion and have worked with residents who lost loved ones, homes, vehicles and jobs in the explosion of the local fertilizer plant. The 2,800 residents of West lost 15 residents in the blast, most of whom were first responders.
This deployment is tougher than most. The little town is closely knit, and everybody lost someone they love. Injuries were horrific. Parents are holding their children—even the middle-aged ones—tightly. Elderly residents are homeless because the nursing home was destroyed. Even the tough, seasoned cops guarding the perimeter of the blast zone can be seen wiping a tear.
Ray has seen it all and she still has a smile for the patient, listening ear for the young woman who needs to tell her story of loss one more time. “It’s important—these folks need to talk about what happened to them,” she says.
Ray and R.J. joined the Red Cross after Hurricane Rita in 2005, when they saw a need and stopped to help distribute water to those displaced by the storm. Ray, the birthday girl, teaches disaster classes, manages shelters, does client casework and responds to local home fires as well as bigger disasters like the one in West.
Fran Parent, Regional Director of Volunteer Services, Greater Houston Area Chapter, American Red Cross says “Ray’s blood runs red, that’s for sure. She’s served in just about every position we have,” said Parent. “How to describe her Red Cross spirit? One time we had a fundraiser at a place with a mechanical bull. Somebody said we could raise money if Ray would get on the mechanical bull and ride it. Ray didn’t hesitate—she climbed right on that bull and rode it!”
Having a birthday during National Volunteer Week suits Ray just fine.
“Serving through the Red Cross is the best way to celebrate a birthday,” said Ray, during a quick break between clients at the Joint Assistance Center set up to serve those affected by the West explosion. She may have had more to say, but a woman with two children by the hand waited patiently for her help. Ray had work to do.