To American Red Cross volunteer June Albor, service to others is “not what I do; it’s who I am.” She attributes her volunteer nature to her childhood as the oldest in a family of eight children and to her mother, a long-time volunteer. “I was always helping in some way, shape, or form,” she laughed.
She first volunteered at the Red Cross during Hurricane Katrina. A social worker by profession, Albor knew her work schedule wouldn’t allow the opportunity to deploy, but she wanted to do something to help. She found a way at the Red Cross. Albor “got trained” and eventually became a member of a Disaster Action Team (DAT), the Red Crossers who go out at all hours of the day and night to comfort those affected by house fires and other disasters. She is now the DAT Team Coordinator for Sonoma County and a Team Captain.
The California Northwest Region served 376 clients in the last fiscal year. On a personal level, Albor responds to about 20 DAT calls each year. When asked what motivates a volunteer to be willing to respond to a house fire at 2:00 a.m., Albor says, “We have a passion for our community that seriously drives us to care for our neighbor.”
Albor carried that passion with her to New York a year ago during a six-week deployment with Red Cross Disaster Relief in the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy. She arrived just five days after the storm and led two disaster response teams—one on Long Island; the other in Queens. They interviewed storm victims to give referrals, and distributed food, clothing, shoes, and other Red Cross supplies. “We gave as much comfort as we could,” she says, “The days were long and exhausting, but it was, for me, absolutely life changing.” Albor recalls aiding a storm victim on Long Island who needed evacuation to a hospital. The man, a diabetic with an infected wound, also needed his medication that had been carried away by the storm. “I’m really good at being a gopher,” says Albor. “It’s my strength, and it shined there.”
Nick Neisius came to the Red Cross by a different path. In the days after Super Storm Sandy, Neisius took a call from the Red Cross at the Valley Ford Fire Department in Sonoma County; he was its Fire Chief. Within a week, Valley Ford had partnered with the Red Cross, and Neisius and two of his firefighters were on their way to New York to aid in the disaster recovery operation.
He deployed to work within Health Services at the Red Cross Disaster Relief Headquarters. During his 20-day deployment, Neisius had the opportunity to respond to “Hot Shots”—calls to the Red Cross requiring immediate response. “I made my niche there,” he says. His most memorable experiences included his “Hot Shot” work with a client named Robert. An amputee who had been evacuated from his home in the Far Rockaways neighborhood in Queens, Robert had taken with him the wrong prosthetic leg in the rush of the evacuation, and he was unable to take his power chair which was later destroyed in the storm. Neisius was able to locate Robert’s home, get inside with help from the landlord, get the right prosthetic, and was ultimately able to help Robert get a new power chair at no cost. “It felt really good to be able to advocate for clients,” he said.
Though he had been able to help many in the community as a first responder and fire chief, Neisius knew within one week of arriving in New York that he wanted to do more with the Red Cross. He came home, took Red Cross classes and volunteered for various activities. When a staff position as Disaster Manager within the California Northwest Region was posted, Neisius didn’t hesitate to apply.
Now one of three disaster managers in the region, Neisius says the Red Cross is “a great place to get involved and help the community—no matter how much or how little time you have. There is always some way to help.”
The California Northwest Region deployed a total of 75 volunteers to Super Storm Sandy. As Albor and Neisius attest, there are many other ways to care for neighbors. They encourage others to consider the joy of volunteer service. “Don’t hesitate to jump in,” says Albor, “It will change your life forever.”
You can help people affected by disasters like Super Storm Sandy, local house fires, as well as countless crises at home and around the world, by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. To make a donation, visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS, or Text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief.