When the Minnesota native and mother of two Nicolle LaFleur returned to the United States six weeks ago to assume the position of Executive Director of the Apple Valley Red Cross chapter, she also brought a unique perspective to her role.
“I returned because I wanted to work with and strengthen outreach at a local level,” said Nicolle LaFleur, who relocated from Asia where she worked with both American Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies for nine years. Her focus was to support the local Red Cross Societies that were coping with natural disasters and health crises across the region. This included mega-earthquakes and the outbreak of avian flu in China, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami disaster and supporting food security in North Korea.
LaFleur couldn’t have imagined that her first real local test would come in the form of a major disaster relief operation in her own backyard. Just six weeks into the job, the largest wildfire in Washington State history struck.
“I thought I was getting away from mega-disasters,” she laughed “But I’m grateful that I can put my experience to work on a number of levels and to be able to speak up for what will be most important for our communities.”
As response efforts continue, LaFleur highlighted those who truly deserved a profound debt of gratitude: the local Red Cross volunteers, staff and community members. She describes how they mobilized as soon as the first fire threatened, put in countless hours, sleepless nights, and worked tirelessly for the community and emergency responders.
When Governor Jay Inslee visited the Red Cross shelter in Chelan and honored Nicolle with the “Washingtonian of the Day” pin, she accepted on behalf the Apple Valley chapter volunteers.
“We are a very small chapter, with only two-and-a-half staff, but we have an amazing brigade of committed volunteers, some of which have served the community for decades,” Nicolle said.
The scale of the wildfire disaster, she added, is also a catalyst to bring the community together. “It’s been so traumatic yet it’s been the start of so many treasured friendships.” She knows that when the immediate disaster response winds down, the local staff and volunteers will be there for the long road of recovery that is ahead.