He survived three grueling civil wars, hiding away in basement shelters or up in small mountain villages to steer clear of the episodic shrapnel bursts that blasted through the windows of his home. Finally, at 18, Pascal Chevalier left Lebanon and headed for the United States. A financial planner by trade, he has now made a home for himself in Wenatchee, Washington, a town famous for the prolific apple and fruit orchards.
However in the summer of 2014, the “Apple Valley” became the epicenter of the largest wildfire disaster in Washington state history. In the chaos of home evacuations and a large-scale American Red Cross disaster response, Chevalier walked into the local chapter and signed up to be a volunteer.
“I’ve been a direct recipient of Red Cross assistance for all my life, so this is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Chevalier said. “When I walked in, I said, ‘I’m here, put me to work.’” He was trained immediately and assigned to support shelter operations.
“I believe 100 percent in everything that the Red Cross does and I see how people respond to it, how happy they are,” he explained. “No matter how many hours you work, you don’t get tired, because you feed off the energy of people who are so happy that you are there.”
Chevalier recalled how assistance from the Red Cross shaped his youth. When conflict raged through his city, Red Cross volunteers brought food by truck. As rockets rained down and destroyed homes, the Red Cross set up safe shelters for families to take refuge.
“They would bring olive oil, which is so precious in the local diet, as well as flour, butter and beans,” he explained. “Many men in our community were with the Red Cross, many of them volunteers. They were young, only 18 or 19 years old and they put their lives in danger to watch out for us.”
Two weeks into his volunteer role, Chevalier stepped up to lead teams in a pilot project for the new nationwide Home Fire Preparedness Campaign. The Red Cross, working with fire departments and other community partners, set a goal to reduce home fire-related deaths and injuries by 25 percent over the next five years. As part of his role in the pilot project, Chevalier leads Strike Teams in door-to-door outreach to fire-impacted communities of eastern Washington.
Meeting families in the shelters and working in the communities that have been hard-hit by wildfires, Chevalier realized he could make a real difference as a volunteer.
“They feel protected and safe that the Red Cross is there,” he said. “And for me, it’s a different feeling to wake up and come here to work, to make yourself available to someone else. It’s really worth it.”