By David Strom
Like so many Red Cross volunteers, Kathryn Buril spreads her love around by serving multiple community organizations.
The Little Rock Red Cross chapter volunteer is active at Saint Mark Baptist Church and on the board of directors of Volunteers in Public Schools (ViPS). She has held leadership roles at local branches of the National Association of University Women, the American Association of University Women and the local AARP chapter.
Kathryn began her Red Cross service with sheltering and mass care disaster assistance groups in the summer of 2009 when numerous hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast.
“People were coming into Little Rock by the hundreds,” she recalled.
Kathryn’s first deployment was in Mena, Arkansas, at a tornado disaster relief shelter.
She knew first-hand what being a shelter client was like because following Hurricane Katrina and Rita, she had stayed at a shelter in Lake Charles, LA. There she received aid through the Red Cross resettlement program which resulted in her relocating to Little Rock in 2005.
“I remember how helpful everyone was at that shelter and how the volunteers made my stay there very memorable,” she said. “This experience has enriched my work in shelter operations for the Red Cross. I understand how people who are displaced feel from first-hand knowledge.”
Kathryn has been a life-long learner. She holds several degrees in subjects ranging from vocational home economics and speech to English and biochemistry. She also earned a masters degree in Health Administration after spending several years as a tuberculosis contact tracer - a role that included administering skin tests.
"When I talk to young people about education, I tell them that when they have a degree, they are more likely to get a position because people see that they are teachable," she added.
Kathryn enjoys taking on many different volunteer roles in the community, one of which involved warning seniors about various financial fraud schemes through a series of retirement planning seminars. Another involved selecting books geared towards fourth to sixth graders for Arkansas public schools. The students read the books from the list and vote on one book for the yearly Charlie May Simon Reading Award, which is named for a local writer.
Over the years as a Red Cross volunteer, Kathryn has served as a case worker, managed shelter setup, raised funds, and supervised lodging and night disaster operations.
“Whatever I can do to lend a hand,” she said. “I want to help people in times of need, supplying information, directions. I like to be doing a lot of different things.”
While many of her roles have been staff positions, Kathryn continues to be a part of the disaster response team for the Mayflower, AR Tornado 2017.
Kathryn is also involved in the Pillowcase Project, which began after Hurricane Katrina when local leaders observed that many of the children who were evacuating were carrying their belongings in pillowcases. The Walt Disney Company agreed to provide all the pillowcases with cartoon drawings of various emergency items printed on the pillowcase fabric. Now a virtual learning experience, this program was part of an effort to educate elementary school children about the importance of disaster preparedness and safety during emergencies. The goal is to encourage parents to fill to-go pillowcases ahead of time. Project materials include workbooks and certificates of completion.
A teacher, Kathryn has also helped recruit other Pillowcase Project volunteers. Since the pandemic, the courses are taught all over the country virtually.
She also practices what she preaches by keeping a backpack of to-go items in her car. One of these is a large kitchen pot which can also do double-duty as a helmet in case of tornadoes.