Years ago Catalina Rendón watched the Colombian Red Cross search and rescue team train and practice their drills from her neighborhood. Years later this inspiration would lead to Rendón’s career with the American Red Cross.
As in many Latin American countries, the Colombian Red Cross was everywhere. They would conduct search and rescue missions, run hospitals and serve as paramedics. “While watching the Red Cross practice their drills, something woke up inside of me,” Rendón said. But she would leave her country and Red Cross aspirations behind to join her family in the United States.
The young woman busied herself with school and work but kept the Red Cross in the back of her mind. One day her aunt told her about the American Red Cross, the work she was doing there as a volunteer and how easy it was to join. “I was really excited to hear about what my aunt was doing with the Hispanic Program at the local Red Cross. I made joining the Red Cross one of my goals,” Rendón explained.
She inquired about volunteering with the Hispanic Volunteer Program at the Upstate South Carolina Chapter in Greenville, South Carolina, only to find out that they were hiring. She applied and soon became the new volunteer coordinator. That was 10 years ago. Under Rendón’s leadership, the Hispanic Volunteer Program has more than 30 volunteers and has expanded to the Western Carolinas, all focused on volunteer recruitment, engagement in the Latino communities and disaster preparedness.
In addition to her daily duties as the Western Carolinas’ Hispanic Outreach and Youth Volunteer Specialist, Rendón serves as a steering committee member for the Red Cross Latino Team Members Resource Group and is a member of the Advanced Public Affairs Team (APAT). When Catalina is deployed with APAT to different natural disasters, she helps Latino communities gain access to help and serves as a national spokesperson to the Spanish-language media.
While deployed to Georgia to help with series of floods, Rendón met a single mother with two children. The woman’s home was flooded and she didn’t have food, water, power, any income or access to help or resources. She was alone, afraid to ask for help and didn’t speak English. Rendón found her while visiting affected homes and brought her to the Red Cross shelter. She gave the mother a comfort kit, food and water. The family spent the day in the shelter; the kids played while the mother got help. “That family really touched my heart,” Rendón recalled.
Four years ago Rendón and her team designed the Family Outreach Preparedness Program, a successful fire safety prevention program for Latino families. The Red Cross collaborated with the local fire department, faith congregations and community centers and offered fun interactive classes for the children and parents.
Rendón encourages Latinos to volunteer and help spread the Red Cross mission. “Take the opportunity to learn and help others; be a part of the Red Cross mission,” she said. “Volunteers are the messengers. Those around you like your family and neighbors will be watching and will want to become a volunteer too. You will feel rewarded.”