In 2005 as Rachelle Owen was driving her son to board school, she turned her car radio and what she heard, changed her life. What she heard was both devastating and life-changing: Hurricane Katrina had just hit the southern states. The horrific news sparked Rachelle to dedicate much of her time to helping others through the Red Cross.
Her first was deployment to Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina, the same event that got here interested in the American Red Cross. She was deployed to the Red River Convention Center in Baton Rouge, a facility that was turned into a Red Cross shelter, housing over 5,000 evacuees from New Orleans.
Though the three weeks were productive, it was challenging to see the high volume of families gathered at the convention center. They had not only lost their homes but their family, friends and hope. After all, it was one of the biggest disasters in U.S. history. The toughest part was hearing all the devastating stories of the evacuees. “The only thing I could really do was be a good listener,” Rachelle recalls.
Today, Rachelle continues to work with the American Red Cross of the Bay Area as a client casework coordinator. Her most recent deployment was to Fort Worth, Texas in May 2015 after a series of destructive floods and tornadoes. During her deployment, she focused on client casework and damage assessment. A typical day for her and other volunteers working on this relief operation was a group meeting. During the meeting, caseworkers mapped and planned the entire day ahead. Volunteers would then head to the affected areas to assess how they could provide assistance while identifying damaged houses and mobile homes. In addition, some days were spent supervising and mentoring other caseworkers and volunteers.
The images of destruction from the tornadoes and how the destruction affected so many individuals was challenging as these images greatly touched her. “But I was thrilled when I found clients to help with clean-up kits, gloves, snacks, water and other resources. It was one of my best experiences in meeting those who went through major loss but I could physically see how the Red Cross was able to help them in assessing their short and long-term needs.”
Rachelle described a time when she and her partner met a gentleman who lost the majority of his belongings on his farm due to the floods. However, he remained resilient, calm, and positive which surprised her but contributed to her enjoyment in helping others. This was the type of attitude that was prominent amongst the people she had encountered in Texas. “The real surprise was how resilient people were no matter how much damage they experienced. They still felt blessed and told us that they were just fine. It was truly inspirational.”
Rachelle Owen’s deployments to Louisiana and Texas demonstrate how the help Red Cross provides inspires those gravely affected by disasters and even the volunteers themselves.