January 10, 2011 is a day that Ian Carlile will never forget. Ian was wrapping up work at the National Constitution Center in Old City, when a friend emailed him urgent and disturbing news: Ian’s apartment complex at 48th and Walnut Streets was engulfed in flames. Ian rushed home to find more than one hundred firefighters battling a five alarm blaze that would ultimately take five hours to control. In total, ninety apartments were either damaged or destroyed. No one was hurt, but the five-alarm fire left Ian and dozens of his neighbors temporarily homeless.
Amid the busy crews, Ian noticed that staff and volunteers from the American Red Cross were also on scene. “I was a little taken aback when the American Red Cross came to assist me. I didn’t know that they did small-time fires. Even though this was a larger fire, nonetheless, I just thought they responded to disasters,” Ian admits. He was surprised to learn that every year the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania (SEPA) responds to about 750 home fires.
Ian’s home fire was devastating. He was able to make arrangements to stay with friends but lost all of his belongings. At the scene, SEPA volunteers provided him and his neighbors with immediate financial assistance to purchase food, clothing, and basic necessities. Some of Ian’s neighbors, who did not have anywhere to go, were given shelter at the nearby Red Cross House, which is SEPA’s short-term recovery center in University City.
Years later, while a young professional in New York, Ian felt called to give back. “The help I received from the Red Cross in Philadelphia after my apartment fire really inspired me to work for the Red Cross of Greater New York,” says Ian. He signed up to be a volunteer for Disaster Services. When Superstorm Sandy hit the greater New York Area in 2012, Ian signed up to help right away. He spent Veterans Day Weekend of that year loading trucks and handing out food and basic necessities to people who were still living without power in the wake of the storm.
Ian explains, “The best part of being a volunteer is working with all the people that I do and seeing people from different walks of life . . .I feel like I really get to see New York City in its absolute diverse, most splendid form and see just how interconnected we all are.”
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