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Volunteer Spotlight: Maryellen Taylor

Mary Ellen Taylor Somona Red Cross Volunteer
What stands out most was that almost everyone said they had gotten many tornado warnings through the years, but tornadoes never actually came.

Following a major disaster, the Red Cross receives increased interest from the public in volunteering. That’s how Maryellen Taylor first came to volunteer. A Licensed Mental Health Professional, she wanted to help victims of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. A dozen deployments later, Taylor exemplifies voluntary service with passion and purpose.

Taylor is the Mental Health Lead for the California Northwest Region, a DAT (Disaster Action Team) Captain covering Sonoma County, and she volunteers for special event and activities. Her deployments have included 9/11 and Hurricane Irene in New York, the San Bruno gas pipe explosion, the Asiana Airlines crash at San Francisco International Airport and Hurricane Sandy last year, and most recently, the Midwest Tornadoes in Illinois.

Taylor was deployed to Illinois in November as a Mental Health Supervisor, and she was put to work in two different MARC (Multi-Agency Resource Center) headquarters. The MARC brought together all emergency response services available to clients in one location. Partner organizations included FEMA, St. Vincent de Paul, County Mental Health, and others. “Each client family had a Red Cross ambassador who stayed with them and walked through each of the stations,” said Taylor. “I liked that a lot.” As a Mental Health volunteer, Taylor was available to Red Cross caseworks as needed and she spent her days mingling with clients to offer emotional support.

“What stands out most,“ she continued, “was that almost everyone said they had gotten many tornado warnings through the years, but tornadoes never actually came.” If not for the timing of the tornadoes—during Sunday church services—many clients said more lives would have been lost. Miraculously, the churches were untouched. Taylor met a homeless client who had been living, with permission, in the back of a church. On the morning of the tornadoes, he was sitting near the doors during the service. When a tornado warning was activated, the homeless man said an elderly man opened the doors to look outside. A funnel cloud was very near, and the client said he grabbed onto the elderly man to pull him back in in a sudden game of tug-of-war with the wind. Both men and the others in the church were safe.

Taylor also joined Red Cross Health Services to make a condolence call. An elderly man and his wife had been napping side by side in their living room when a tornado struck. He was resting in his easy chair while his wife lounged on the couch. In an instant, the man’s wife was swept up in the funnel cloud. He was miraculously safe in his easy chair, suffering only a few scratches but a huge loss.

As a DAT Captain and team member, Taylor also responds to assist and support local clients following house fires and other emergencies. Additionally, she participates in fun and interesting Red Cross activities like the art of moulage—a special form of face and body make-up to simulate injuries for training purposes. When Halloween falls on a weekend, Taylor and other Red Cross volunteers set up a booth at the mall to offer moulage painting for a fee with all proceeds benefitting Red Cross disaster relief. “It looks gory and realistic,” she says, “but we have a lot of fun doing that for a good cause.”

Taylor retired from her professional career in 2010. She says she had planned to give more time to Red Cross service and she certainly has.

For more information about volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross, please contact Nicole Massey by phone at 717-577-7634 or by email at Nicole.Massey@RedCross.org, or visit our website.

You can help people affected by disasters like the Midwest Tornadoes, local house fires, as well as countless crises at home and around the world, by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. To make a donation, visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS, or Text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief.