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Red Cross AmeriCorps Program Fosters Community Involvement

In Santa Barbara, people at the courthouse waiting to be called for jury duty learned how to prepare for a disaster. Elementary school children in metropolitan New York were taught to call 9-1-1. Citizens offering facilities as possible shelter sites in Saint Louis received prompt Red Cross assessments.

These community services were provided by members of the National Preparedness and Response Corps, an American Red Cross program funded by an AmeriCorps grant. Corps members join Red Cross staff to provide disaster preparedness education to underserved communities, respond to disasters and recruit young and ethnically diverse volunteers.

The program will more than double in 2012-2013, from 51 to 122 members. This August new Corps members, mostly young adults, will start a year of service with one of 22 Red Cross chapters across the nation. For people who like to help others, it’s a good place to begin a career.

Hands-on Service

Katie Beall, with the American Red Cross St. Louis (Mo.) Area, has responded to flash floods, apartment fires and more. Beall has spent her New Year’s Eve deployed as a damage assessor, and served during Hurricane Irene, the sixth costliest hurricane in U.S. history.

Working to prevent home fires is one of Beall’s passions. She knows their incredible toll and that home fires account for most of the 70,000 emergencies to which the Red Cross responds annually. Last fall she personally visited each of the area’s 50 fire departments, talking with fire chiefs about available Red Cross services and gathering feedback on the effectiveness of the Red Cross response.

During AmeriCorps Week, Beall, another Corps member, Jillian Winters, and a group of volunteers canvassed neighborhoods with high incidents of home fires, distributing information about how to maintain a fire safe home and how to respond should a fire occur. “We were getting into the community the way AmeriCorps workers do,” Beall said.

Franny Briggs is a Corps member with Metro New York North (Greenwich, Conn.). She is part of a team that brings basic first aid and preparedness education to children in dozens of classrooms and scout troops. The team also encourages kids to get involved as volunteers. A great success has been a middle school Red Cross Club in the Bronx started by fellow Corps member Kayla Colyard. Students held a successful blood drive in their school gym.

As her year as an AmeriCorps volunteer draws to an end, Briggs remembers working at a Red Cross shelter in Yonkers. “After an apartment fire there were a lot of people with no place to sleep and no way to cook, so the Red Cross opened a shelter,” she says. “It was a time when I really had to use all of my Red Cross training.”

Like Briggs and Beall, many program participants are young adults just out of high school or college, looking to get a little experience. The 2012-2013 program year begins this August; National Preparedness and Response Corps opportunities are posted on the Federal government AmeriCorps website.