In 2005, Charles Jones - native of Detroit, Michigan, father of two sons, Air Force veteran, UC Berkeley graduate, and an employee of United Airlines for over 25 years - watched on television from his home in San Francisco as Hurricane Katrina slammed into the coastal areas of the southern United States. Charles picked up the phone and called the American Red Cross asking what he could to do to help. Ten days later, after training in San Francisco and Louisiana, Charles was driving an “ERV” – an Emergency Response Vehicle – in Kenner, Louisiana just outside of New Orleans as part of the Mass Care response delivering food to people and neighborhoods in need.
Over the course of the following decade, he deployed to disaster sites and provided Mass Care response as an ERV driver throughout the United States including Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas and New York. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Charles drove an ERV vehicle from Oakland, California across the United States in four days with fellow American Red Cross volunteer and case worker Pat Morales, to provide Mass Care response to the clients in need in the greater New York City area.
In 2013, Charles was deployed to Victoria, Texas to assist people affected by the severe flooding and worked for the first time as a volunteer Shelter Supervisor. In the 2015 Lake County Fires in Northern California, he was promoted to Shelter Manager – responsible for every aspect of the shelter’s operation. The shelter was located at the Twin Pine Casino Event Center where he worked in coordination with the local community, the Casino staff, the Salvation Army and FEMA to provide disaster relief services to clients affected by the fires, housing 129 clients at peak occupancy.
“It’s all about the clients,” Charles says repeatedly. “It’s all about serving the clients and meeting their needs; everything is done for the client. When someone loses everything, you don’t know what is going through their mind.” As a Shelter Manager, there are always multiple balls up in the air. However, when deployed as a volunteer he says he is never tired and feels the positive energy of working with fellow volunteers and for the clients of the Red Cross.
The Red Cross has regulations to guide volunteers but every disaster is different, Charles relates. Volunteers must observe, listen carefully and think creatively to make frequent adjustments and solve problems. He says he manages his volunteer staff by getting to know them well - often volunteers have skills that are not immediately apparent but can be critical to the success of a particular situation; meeting with them frequently and setting expectations; and emphasizing to the volunteers that clients and their individual needs are the highest priority.
The success of Charles’s preternaturally calm and inclusive management style did not go unnoticed by Richard Reed, Senior Vice President of Disaster Cycle Services as he toured the shelter. Mr. Reed awarded Charles the “Disaster Cycle Services Medal” for his good judgement during the course of his deployment as the Shelter Manager at the Lake County Shelter.
Charles praises the Red Cross for giving people such as himself the opportunity to be part of the solution and talks about his admiration and respect for his fellow volunteers.