National Volunteer Week is April 6- 12; a great opportunity to recognize the many American Red Cross volunteers who give so much of themselves. Additional profiles are also available.
Stephen Curtis was born into a life of volunteer service to the Red Cross. Eighty-one years later he is still very active in the Kern Chapter (California).
Curtis would accompany his grandmother to distribute coffee and donuts for the Red Cross, starting as young as 3 years old. He attributes his mother and grandmother’s willingness to serve others through the Red Cross that gave him the internal drive to accomplish what they had done and beyond.
He has taught numerous first aid and CPR classes over the years as well as volunteering for disaster deployments that at times would last 30 or more days. His deployments have included numerous floods, fires, earthquakes and hurricanes. This service experience now includes a total of 65 years driving a Red Cross emergency response vehicle, a distinction very few volunteers can match.
A few major disasters stand out as Curtis recalls his volunteer deployments. In the 1980s, California’s Lake Elsinore flood left 2,000 residents stranded, due to 4 inches of rain in 12 hours and a clogged drainage canal. Residents’ mobile homes were surrounded by water and many of them began to sink. Curtis was asked to bring his own rubber boots and drive the Red Cross van to help address the great need for food, water and shelter. When Curtis arrived he witnessed “mass chaos,” but with his prior Red Cross training, he was able to help set the shelter up and organize food distribution. This helped both the residents as well as the many workers who came to assist the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who were setting up sandbags to save the airport as well as homes. Curtis was deployed for 27 days until every elderly person had a place of residence.
Another memorable flood occurred in 1983 in Lamont, CA. “The water was 4 feet deep in front of the shelter and a local farmer had to pick up people in his tractor and deliver them to the shelter,” recalls Curtis.
Curtis also has been deployed to various disasters throughout the United States that included a month in New York and a month in Louisiana for hurricane relief.
When called, Curtis’s approach is to always be willing to serve without a complaint. Once, he was bear hunting in a national forest and a park ranger found him to give him the message that he needed to be deployed. His family was supportive of his volunteer work, as well as various employers, which made his dedication to help those with need easier. Curtis missed many holidays and family events but he has absolutely no regrets. “I would do this again,” he stated.
Curtis stays active in the Kern Chapter by attending disaster volunteer meetings every month (bringing donuts each time) and participating in the Team Firestopper community canvassing. He is an extraordinary man with an incredible Red Cross history, and it doesn’t look like he’s stopping anytime soon.