In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, the American Red Cross is featuring stories of heroic volunteers and supporters. From one of our New York chapters comes a volunteer who has worked with the Red Cross for four years.
As one of the first responders on location during Hurricane Sandy, Grace Nieves has always believed that anything you do in life you should enjoy and commit to wholeheartedly. As a Red Cross volunteer, she considers herself not just a responder during natural disasters, but also a friend to those in need.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., to parents who are natives of Puerto Rico, Nieves was always reminded of the rich culture of her heritage. She remembers the teachings of her mother, who said, “Even if you cannot give financially, the next best thing to give is your time.”
Growing up in the city, she always saw people in need. However, school, work and caring for her family prevented Nieves from volunteering as much as she wanted. The thought of helping was continuously in her heart, so once she retired, Nieves made it a priority to give back.
Just as Nieves was searching for an organization to become involved with, her mother was helped by the Red Cross at one of their shelters. After seeing how her mother was provided such generous aid, she knew that was the nonprofit she wanted to join.
Helping the elderly is something Nieves enjoys the most in her spare time. One of the first events she responded to was an apartment fire, where a 91-year-old woman was rescued.
“I wanted to help her,” Nieves recounted. “At that time, all I could do was talk to her while we waited on the woman’s hotel arrangements to be ready.” Even though Nieves’ shift was over, she said, “I could not leave until she was okay.”
Today her niece and brother, Carlito, have joined in the Red Cross action. Nieves said, “The Red Cross does such great work, I have encouraged my family to volunteer with them. It’s a team effort.”
While she is volunteering, her other brother, Roberto, cares for their mother until she returns. “I can leave home knowing my mom is taken care of while I help others.”
Since she joined the Red Cross, she has answered countless calls to help others, including responding to a bus crash in the Bronx and even comforting the survivors of the Hudson River plane crash in 2009.
One of the most memorable moments Nieves recounted is being one of the first responders to last year’s Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. The hurricane flooded streets, and while power was out in her house, she rushed to help others in the community. “I got there with only the clothes on my back,” she said.
In Sandy’s aftermath, many families needed food and shelter, and Nieves distributed meals and blankets to an increasingly large crowd. Until government assistance could arrive, she comforted everyone with words of encouragement. “I will never forget the people I met,” said Nieves. “They have all touched my life.”
She continues to help by volunteering at her local Red Cross. She hopes to encourage younger people to volunteer, saying, “No matter your age or race, you can always give back.”