For the past 20 years, a special group of individuals has been embedded in American Red Cross operations across the country, helping respond to disasters, teach CPR courses, present on preparedness and everything in between. As September 12, 2014, marks the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps, the Red Cross recognizes and celebrates this group of AmeriCorps members who pledge to “get things done for America” and help advance the Red Cross mission.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN The Red Cross first began working with AmeriCorps in 1994. Following the Northridge Earthquake, the Los Angeles Red Cross chapter coordinated a program that involved 40 national service members to assist in earthquake recovery efforts.
The Los Angeles chapter then piloted a nationwide Red Cross AmeriCorps program. This program helped provide vital emergency assistance to communities affected by disaster and increase preparedness in the areas of greatest need before disasters strike by recruiting, training and supporting young adults in Red Cross direct service activities.
In 1997, the Los Angeles chapter partnered with Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C., to launch the first nationwide program. This nationwide program continues to grow and currently deploys more than 100 members in service at 22 sites across the country. Additionally, members support and amplify the Red Cross mission through a variety of other AmeriCorps programs related to disaster preparedness, response and recovery.
DISASTERS, PREPAREDNESS AND TRAINING Preparedness education is a primary role for many AmeriCorps members, reaching thousands of individuals of all ages.
AmeriCorps members with the Red Cross Central Valley chapter in California support a robust preparedness campaign. This year, six new members will assist with the Prepare Central Valley Campaign, a four-year initiative to empower 250,000 local residents to be prepared for any disaster. Members support the community by providing disaster preparedness presentations and engaging residents at community outreach events.
Sometimes members help respond directly to disasters. In the Red Cross Greater St. Louis Region, AmeriCorps members sometimes ride along with disaster workers to help individuals and families affected by home fires. After a tornado destroyed parts of the small town of Brookport, Illinois, in 2013, just weeks before Thanksgiving, members helped with damage assessment, set up a shelter in an old gym and helped with casework.
AmeriCorps members may also help with Red Cross training and certification as CPR and first aid instructors.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AmeriCorps members find many great opportunities to gain and sharpen new skills with the Red Cross, making their service a valuable experience in their career path. In fact, one individual started out as a Red Cross volunteer, served in AmeriCorps and then was hired on as a Red Cross employee.
Kaleena Wright was a Red Cross AmeriCorps member and Homeland Security liaison in 2007 and 2008. She also became a Red Cross employee after her service.
“The level of exposure and responsibility I was entrusted with gave me the confidence to create my own impact,” Wright said. “After that year of intense engagement things like public speaking, program development, fundraising, storytelling and innovative strategic development became second nature. It allowed me to grow my career on my own terms by knowing and understanding that my ability to make an impact is only limited by my ability to imagine and be a part of something larger than myself.”
For another look at how the Red Cross network has partnered with AmeriCorps members who “bring Americans together to strengthen our communities,” read more from Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern.