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Volunteers Help the South and Midwest Through 'Ready When the Time Comes'

In a time of great need across the South, American Red Cross volunteers have stepped up to help communities devastated by tornadoes and floods.

Some of these volunteers came to the Red Cross through their jobs—more specifically, through the Red Cross “Ready When the Time Comes” (RWTC) program. This program trains employees from Red Cross partner corporations so that when disaster strikes, volunteers are ready to be mobilized as a community-based force.

Ready When the Time Comes was developed in 2001 as a partnership between the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago and W.W. Grainger, Inc., the national founding sponsor of the program. Today, more than 13,000 employees representing 460 businesses and organizations in 52 communities across the country have been trained as Red Cross disaster volunteers through the program.

A Life-Changing Experience

A group of employees from Grainger recently served as volunteers in Red Cross shelters in the Memphis area when Mississippi River flood waters overtook the region.

The Grainger volunteers helped run the shelter, were there to support residents who needed a sympathetic ear, and also played with the kids, which gave their parents a little break. Several of them described their experiences as life-altering.

“Once you volunteer and help the Red Cross, it just makes you want to come in the next day and the next day,” said Annette Hopper. “It’s a great experience.”

Andriana Allen agreed, saying, “It will change your life. It will change the way you see other people; it will knock down barriers. It will change the way you perceive people just from helping one time.”

The Skills to Make a Difference

Tammy Valley, a Cisco Systems, Inc. employee in North Carolina, was trained along with her colleagues last year through Ready When the Time Comes. Last month, after deadly tornadoes hit North Carolina, Valley was asked if she could help the Red Cross.

Valley’s assignment was to assess home damage along the tornado’s path in Wake County. “It was unbelievable what we saw,” she recalled. “It was not what you see you TV—it was much worse.”

The next day she and her colleague went back through the destroyed neighborhoods and delivered food and drinks to residents that were impacted by the tornadoes. Valley decided that she wanted to continue to help, so she spent a third day at a Red Cross shelter.

“The whole experience was an eye-opener and made me realize that I want more training in disaster relief, because there is so much more that I can do to help others,” she said. “I did not think that I was capable of doing the things I did in the course of three days—but the great thing is that the Red Cross taught me the skills to make a big difference.”

A Change in Perspective

St. Louis, Mo., was another city affected by severe storms this spring. Immediately following the tornado that hit the city last month, Jim Woodcock, a local Red Cross board member and RWTC volunteer from Fleishman-Hillard, stepped up to help. Woodcock rode along with a Red Cross disaster assessment team and acted as a public affairs volunteer, collecting survivors’ stories and photos.

The Davis Family’s home was one of those damaged in the EF3 tornado. “Please tell our story,” Evelyn Johnson-Davis told Woodcock. “We want people to know how bad it is here, because around here sometimes we’re not the first people everyone thinks about. But we’re sure glad the Red Cross is here.”

As Woodcock wrote in a blog post, volunteering changes one’s perspective.

“It would be a good thing if we never had occasion to see the brilliance of the Red Cross, and the commitment of its staff and volunteers, come to life,” Woodcock wrote. “But, to see it happen is amazing. And that is especially true for a board member like me who is entrusted to provide counsel and leadership to the local chapter, but may not fully realize the profound responsibility and privilege that comes with a board position until widespread disaster strikes his or her own community and you’re in the trenches with the Disaster Assessment Team, if only for a day.”

He continues: “I thank the St. Louis Chapter of the American Red Cross for the ability to serve. And to the staff and volunteers of the Red Cross, I am grateful to now fully understand the significance of that service.”