The American Red Cross spreads its humanitarian mission throughout the country with the support, dedication and generosity of its vast volunteer network. More than 95 percent of the organization's workforce is comprised of hardworking volunteers. This year, the local Red Cross in Western Pennsylvania will highlight the extraordinary work taking place throughout the region with a volunteer 'Get to Know Us' series.
This month, the “Get to Know Us” series will spotlight two local volunteers from the local Red Cross PA Heartland Chapter. This August, Sherry Hoover of Clearfield and Charlotte Kessler of DuBois will be recognized for their continuous dedication and commitment to the Red Cross mission, especially during the recent flood response.
The PA Heartland Chapter serves individuals who reside in Jefferson, Elk, Clearfield and Cameron counties. Last year, the chapter responded to nearly 50 unexpected emergencies, assisting nearly 200 people; in addition, the chapter connected 65 family members and loved ones with those deployed overseas.
Sherry Hoover and Charlotte Kessler
Sherry Hoover of Clearfield has been involved with the local Red Cross for numerous years. Hoover initially became interested in the humanitarian organization when she attended preparedness, health and safety courses. Currently, as a retired educator, Hoover volunteers numerous hours to the PA Heartland Chapter, serving in various roles including course instructor, fundraising events and community outreach.
Just 20 miles away, Charlotte Kessler of DuBois, also exhibits extreme dedication to the local Red Cross. Kessler, who has worked with the organization for more than five years, serves as a disaster responder and blood drive volunteer. During her Red Cross volunteer experience, Kessler has responded to home fires, storms, floods and other emergencies, assisting disaster victims and first responders.
Hoover and Kessler did not know each other before Thursday, June 27. However, that week, they both received a call from the local Red Cross.
The organization needed their help to assist victims who were affected by the devastating flash flood waters.
“When they called me out at noon…I responded to set up a shelter at Oklahoma School," said Kessler. “Then, we realized that the shelter location wasn’t going to be the best, so we moved to the (DuBois) high school and had an overnight shelter there.”
A few days following the shelter operation, the local chapter called Hoover.
“I was called to help on the Sunday, after the flooding on Thursday,” said Hoover. “I had responded to fires and that kind of thing, so I knew a little about assisting victims. I went (to the service delivery site) that day and every day after for a few weeks.”
In response to the severe flooding in Clearfield and Jefferson counties, the local Red Cross operated two shelters to provide refuge for hundreds of residents, managed a service delivery site to provide victims with their immediate needs and distributed relief supplies and clean up kits throughout affected communities.
During the operation, Kessler and Hoover were integral members of the Red Cross flood response team. The two worked closely together, forming a tight bond in the midst of complete devastation and hopelessness.
“I started to know Charlotte at the service delivery site,” said Hoover. “I was truly impressed by her and the entire Red Cross staff, from the entire region. Together, we were able to help so many people, it was really a joy.”
Kessler and Hoover assisted each other with paperwork and interviews.
“We really took the time to listen to their (victims’) stories,” said Kessler. “That was my first time that I had met Sherry…we really complemented each other well. I have a new friend now. She was just so great to work with.”
As a result of the relief operation, the Red Cross assisted 707 individuals, served 728 meals in partnership with the Salvation Army, distributed 728 clean-up kits and provided shelter for 166 displaced residents.
For more than three weeks, the local Red Cross staffed the service delivery site, a location where affected individuals could meet one-on-one with volunteers, like Hoover and Kessler.
“When they (victims) were ready to leave, we gave them a hug or handshake, we wanted to show a sincere effort…we really cared,” said Kessler.
The PA Heartland Chapter quickly mobilized to respond to flood victims. Through their tireless efforts and commitment to alleviating human suffering, the chapter formed tight-knit relationships and bonds that will be evident in future humanitarian work.
“We became a family, and we looked forward to coming in everyday to help those affected by the flood...I went to eat with the group at night and I know Sherry did, too,” said Kessler. “We would just sit there and talk about their experiences and some of their stories… It was a reward to all of us to become a part of the Red Cross family.”
When it comes to recruiting new volunteers, Hoover highly recommends the opportunity with the local Red Cross.
“Working for the Red Cross is so sporadic, you can work full-time and still do it, and the people you meet are just wonderful,” said Hoover. “And you always feel like you are doing something to help.”
The local Red Cross chapter is actively recruiting interested community members to join their Red Cross family. The chapter aims to fit individuals in appropriate roles based on their interests, skills and background. For more information on the chapter or to become a volunteer, visit RedCross.org/PA/DuBois or call 814-371-2750.