Brandy is a dream volunteer. She is smart and inquisitive, wanting to know everything about the American Red Cross. A self-starter, Brandy wants to help in any way that will further the mission of the organization. -- Bonnie Jacobs, Charlotte County Office, Disaster Services Coordinator, Charlotte/DeSoto Counties, Southwest Florida Chapter of the American Red Cross
Bonnie is not alone in her respect for Brandy Smithey, a Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteer for the Charlotte County Office. Although a volunteer for only five months, Brandy continues to earn accolades from superiors and clients.
A solid background as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and Water and Crash Rescuer for the Swansboro EMS in North Carolina has provided Brandy with requisite skills. But she also has an innate passion to help others—a theme that resonated during our recent interview.
Brandy lives by the following mantra: “When you go out on a call, you must have heart. Everyone needs someone to listen.”
What’s even more inspiring about Brandy is her gratitude for others, whether family or Red Cross family or clients. Downplaying glowing comments from superiors, she repeated how she’s indebted to them. For example, “I don’t know who I would call if it weren’t for Bonnie”; or “Steve Guetschow and Bene Hunter in Sarasota inspired me to find out more about DAT.”
A recent experience sums up Brandy’s dedication. When asked what has been the most rewarding experience, she relayed how during a recent call, a woman and her child lost everything in a fire and “I let her vent all she wanted.” At first blush, it sounds like Brandy is shining the spotlight on herself. But as she continued, her unselfish dedication permeated the interview.
“I know personally how it feels when something is taken away from you and the future is unknown,” referring to the death of Brandy’s first husband, a former Marine, who was killed by a sniper in Afghanistan.
Brandy’s remarks not only reflect who she is but represent all Red Cross volunteers: “We are the Red Cross; we are there to help in any way possible. If that means allowing clients to vent or talk about the most random things, we need to listen.”
Her one regret was how she wishes she could do more for the client: “I was only able to help her in allowing her to vent, getting her a CAC card (Client Assistance Card, which provides prepaid assistance for lodging, food, gas, and whatever else is essential to the client’s safety and wellbeing), and just being there for her. Is that not what we as Red Crossers do?”
For Brandy, volunteering is win-win: “The next week I saw them (fire victims) in the store, when the child ran right up to me and my family and gave me a big hug while her mother started to cry, thanking the Red Cross. That day I was having a bad day and that made it so much better.”
As a DAT volunteer, Brandy wears many hats:
She’s on call as a dispatcher twice a week, each day for 12 hours, receiving Regional Office calls and contacting other DAT volunteers to appear on the scene of a natural disaster, fire, or other emergency.
She volunteers at “canteens,” distributing supplies, food, and water to the local police and fire departments, clients, and other volunteers. As expected, she downplayed her role and talked about her DAT supervisors, Joe Lucas and Larry Palmer.
Working with another DAT member, she provides food, shelter, comfort, and lodging for families affected by major disasters and other emergencies. Having assessed client needs, she issues CACs.
She represents the organization at local events, staffing a booth, where she educates the community that the American Red Cross is not just about blood donations. “It’s so much more, such as volunteering and being part of a family. We take care of one another. I know in the Charlotte office we do.”
She visits with veterans at VA facilities and nursing homes, distributing flyers and other information. A future endeavor is to work with Services to Armed Forces Officer Lou Rodriguez, visiting military families and educating them about the Red Cross.
She’ll be juggling additional hats once she completes online training for the Pillowcase Project, sponsored by Disney. Brandy will be assisting Jenniveve Angus, Volunteer Specialist with the Charlotte Office. While school-aged children are decorating pillowcases to protect their valuable should a disaster strike them personally, students will be learning about disasters and coping mechanisms.
Besides raising a family and caring for her husband, who is a Marine completing his college education, Brandy, herself, is pursuing a degree in social work so she can counsel veterans in the future. Another goal is to visit Japan, where she and her deceased husband were to honeymoon before he was attacked in Afghanistan.
Brandy is convinced that volunteering can make a difference in a person’s life. “When given the chance, I tell them to join. I love the Red Cross. I love what we stand for. I love what we do.”