Bill Van Dyke, 59, sits with his guide dog Alton curled at his feet while American Red Cross volunteers stop to pat Alton lovingly on their way out to serve the residents of Louisiana.
“He’s a guide dog, but he can actually work with the people and get them to talk and get them to bring out their anxieties or their stress,” said Van Dyke lovingly of Alton. “Every morning and every night that I am at the shelter, they just loved on him, they just had a good time.”
Van Dyke has been a volunteer with his local American Red Cross chapter in Knoxville, Tenn. for five years; but the 2016 historic Louisiana flood was his, and Alton’s, first deployment. Van Dyke and Alton, who have been a dynamic duo for four years, were volunteering in a staff shelter for about a month, taking care of the staff.
“I just try to help other people. I’ve always wanted to do that, I wanted to be there to help,” said Van Dyke. “Their need, even if they’re staff members, their need of talking to someone—someone to listen, I mean—that’s what I’m here for.”
Van Dyke may be vision-impaired, but he doesn’t let that stand in his way of helping others.
“If you have a disability, you can do it—you can be a volunteer, you can help. If it’s here in the office or in a shelter area, you can keep people motivated by what you do and what you say,” said Van Dyke.
Though his time in Louisiana is wrapping up, Van Dyke wanted to leave his fellow Red Crossers with a few words of wisdom.
“My feeling is if you’re deployed and you have baggage from your deployment, let loose of it during your deployment and talk to someone. Talk to someone, because you aren’t going to get it out any other way; you’ll feel really sick if you don’t.”
And that is exactly what Van Dyke and Alton have been in Louisiana to do. Despite finding his first deployment harder than he expected, both mentally and emotionally, Bill expects to continue serving the American people as a Red Cross volunteer.
“What makes it worth it is number one: just seeing people,” said Van Dyke, reflecting on the irony of his statement, “and I don’t have much vision.”