On August 16, Tobrin Hewitt—inspired by his passion for service and a newsbreak he saw during the Rio Olympics—found himself on a plane headed to Baton Rouge. The relentless rain and overflowing rivers were taking a huge toll on the state of Louisiana. Hewitt wanted to lend a helping hand.
Hewitt, Service to the Armed Forces Manager for the Gold Country Region, is no stranger to deployments. Before joining the Red Cross he served in the U.S. Army for 21 years. Yet, when he signed on to leave home and help Louisiana flood victims, the butterflies set in.
Armed with his Red Cross vest, a few necessities, and a lot of support from the Gold Country staff, Hewitt soon joined hundreds of Red Crossers from across the country on the ground in the flood-stricken area. Although he had done his research and knew that he would spend several nights in a Red Cross shelter, he was still “prepared to sleep in the dirt,” if that’s what the situation called for.
By the time Hewitt arrived, thousands of people were already housed in shelters, with more arriving all the time. Experts predicted 100,000 homes would sustain damage.
The butterflies gave way to a sense of urgency.
Moving the Wheel Forward
Hewitt arrived in Louisiana in the early days of the Red Cross disaster response. He was amazed by the immense operation. Setting up shelters and delivering food, organizing Red Cross volunteers and workers, helping clients—all these processes had to work together for the operation to run smoothly and efficiently.
Hewitt described it as “making the wheel move forward” to ensure evacuees would get the help they needed. He was assigned to the volunteer staffing team, an indispensable cog in this wheel.
The volunteer staffing team usually worked 12 to 14 hours a day, assigning duties to shelter workers so flood victims would get help quickly. The staffing team also assisted volunteers with logistical issues. Hewitt understood that if volunteers got the support they needed, they would be better equipped to assist their clients.
So, he says, “I made it personal.” If a volunteer approached him for help, resolving that person’s problem became his priority—even when it meant finding the time to give the person a lift to an ATM to get some cash.
After six days on the job, Hewitt was due for a day of rest. He made a quick trip to a laundromat, visited Louisiana State University, and topped off the day with some of Louisiana’s famous Shrimp and Crawfish Etouffee. Then he rejoined his team and continued to support volunteers for another long but productive and gratifying week.
After two weeks in Louisiana, Hewitt returned home. “I met some great people, learned a lot,” he said. “I’m ready to deploy again, whenever I’m needed.”
By Marlene Stamper, Red Cross Gold Country Volunteer