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AmeriCorps Member Reflects on Last Disaster Assignment in Texas

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"...keeping the Red Cross principles at the forefront of every decision you make is important,"

During the month of June, it seems like Texas couldn’t catch a break. Plagued by heavy rainfalls in May and early June, followed by even more flooding and tornadoes, many Texas residents from San Antonio to Austin to Houston were affected by the ongoing disasters.

Red Cross volunteers from across the country flocked to areas impacted by the flooding to assist displaced residents. As of the end of June, 22 L.A. Region volunteers had deployed to Texas, where the Red Cross had opened more than 50 overnight shelters and supplied more than 100,000 meals and snacks.

Vilma Escamilla Duran, a recent graduate of the California Safe Corps - AmeriCorps program in L.A., spent two weeks in Texas, and I interviewed her about her role in the AmeriCorps program and her Texas assignment.

Q: How would you describe your position at the Red Cross?

A: I was an AmeriCorps member, working within Disaster Services. AmeriCorps is best described as “the domestic version of the Peace Corps,” and our job was to help the Red Cross serve people in vulnerable communities.  Members had many different roles: giving preparedness presentations, responding to home fires and other disasters, doing follow-up casework with clients after disasters, working with youth, and other assignments. I was mainly involved with disaster response and doing casework.

Q:  Why did you choose to become a Red Cross disaster responder?

A: I think the idea of (being) a first responder has always been really interesting to me. I want to be in medicine/health care, and I've never done anything like EMS, so I wanted to see if I could handle it, stress wise. When I applied to the AmeriCorps program in West L.A., I knew that being a disaster responder was one of the activities I could become involved with to gain that type of experience. If I could handle the stress, it would help me with a career in the medical field.

Q: When you were in Texas, was there a specific client who stood out?

A: Yes. One woman I spoke with lived in an affluent neighborhood. Her home had been destroyed a few years back from Hurricane Ike. As she was rebuilding her home, she was diagnosed with cancer. She had to deal with chemotherapy the whole time and had just finished her last round a week before the current flooding.  So, you know, she just laughed about it. She just went from one disaster to another to another to another and still had the greatest sense of humor. It’s great to see that someone can keep that attitude in the face of disaster.

Q: What is one thing that you felt was needed in Texas.  What wasn’t there enough of in terms of resources?

A: For the people who have money, education and resources, it’s easier to start the recovery process of losing one’s home, assets, and belongings. But for the people who didn’t have anything or know that their home was in a flood region, that’s a huge problem. I think in the end, preventative education is just really important for those that have less resources to help them start off again and recover in a way that (is) helpful for their family

Q: What do you feel you've learned from being a disaster responder?

A: As cheesy as it may sound, keeping the Red Cross' principles at the forefront of every decision you make is important. I was nervous the first couple times I responded to a local home fire. Our job as disaster responders is to provide immediate assistance. When a family loses everything in what seems like an instant, your undivided attention is necessary and part of the job. Knowing how to classify damages or figuring out how to input the data collected doesn't matter as much as the interaction between the responder and client. Mainly, you need to be a compassionate human being.

Check here for more information about the AmeriCorps program, http://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps/join-americorps.

Thanks again to Vilma and the entire team of LA Region volunteers who assisted Texas flood clients in various capacities:

  • Cary Van Ausdall
  • Michael Mardini
  • Alexa Harper
  • Wilhelmina Mussman
  • Sam Burgess
  • Helen Brooks
  • Laura Warriner
  • Normando Fajardo
  • Mimi Teller Rosicky
  • Vilma Escamilla Duran
  • Tori Kanhayuwa
  • Jeanne Woo
  • Elizabeth Fieux
  • Stephen Maxey
  • Henry Mills
  • Josue Perez
  • Jennifer Faux
  • Barbara Seymoure
  • Ken Dieball
  • Emily Thomas
  • Carmela Burke
  • Robert Bowker