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Training Institute Students Immediately Use Shelter Skills

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They were excited and motivated volunteers who stepped up and jumped in feet first

When employees and volunteers in the Northern California Coastal Region pooled their talents to organize, host, and successfully hold an American Red Cross Disaster Training Institute in Scotts Valley this spring, they couldn't imagine how quickly four of the 200 attendees would put their newly acquired skills to good use.

"It can sometimes be challenging to sit through classes if you don't feel like you will be putting that training to use right away," says Peggy Pinarbasi, the disaster workforce placement and retention coordinator for the Silicon Valley Chapter. "Well, the people in the institute's Shelter Fundamentals class that Saturday didn't have long to wait."

That's because the Red Cross had been tasked with setting up a shelter the previous night after a fire at a Sunnyvale apartment complex resulted in the complete evacuation of all 81 units. And by Saturday afternoon, it was determined that Red Cross reinforcements were needed.

Among those who attended the institute's shelter class that Saturday were Pasha Croes, from the Silicon Valley Chapter; and Khadija Hansia, Aaron Mason, and Phaidra Campbell, from the Bay Area Chapter.

They and their classmates were surprised when their teachers completed the Saturday afternoon course by inviting members of the class to help in Sunnyvale. Nonetheless, all four jumped at the chance to turn their basic knowledge of Red Cross shelters into applied knowledge that would help people in real need.

Hansia and Mason began their shelter assignments on Sunday; Campbell, on Monday.

Croes, however, was deployed immediately — serving a 12-hour shift at the Sunnyvale Community Center shelter that began at 7 that Saturday night. "I literally drove straight from the institute, to my home in Campbell to pick up a few overnight things, to the shelter," Croes says.

For Croes, the information he had learned in the shelter class couldn't have been fresher. "To take what I had just learned in a classroom and get to apply it in a real-life situation really reinforced what I had just learned," he says.

He says the experience underscored the fact that the food, sheltered beds, and supplies that the Red Cross dispenses during emergencies are absolutely mission-critical. But so is just being there to listen to or talk to people during their time of critical need.

"I realized that it was important to just spend some time mingling with the residents of the shelter," he says. "Sometimes they just need to vent, and you just have to listen."

From Pinarbasi's perspective, she couldn't be more proud of the four.

"It was an amazing coincidence that the actual day you are taking a class you have the experience you have just trained for," she says. "They were excited and motivated volunteers who stepped up and jumped in feet first."

Pinarbasi adds that the shelter supervisors were also appreciative of the last-minute help. "Each supervisor wrote to me to say how wonderful each of the four volunteers had been on the job."

Pasha Croes, pictured above, began his American Red Cross volunteer work in Blood Services for the Silicon Valley Chapter. Pasha got his first taste of Disaster Cycle Services just hours after completing an introductory class at the recent training institute in Scotts Valley.