Larry Martens says when he joined the Red Cross in 2007, he did so on the advice of a friend. Martens had recently retired from a career in mental health, so volunteering with Red Cross Mental Health just seemed to make sense.
His first deployment was to a mega shelter in Dallas-Fort Worth in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. “I had no idea what we did,” he said. “I had had no training.”
But he quickly learned as he was immersed almost immediately. An Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) team arrived during the night shortly after he arrived. The team decided that rather than disturb anyone, they would spend the rest of the night in the ERV and report the next morning. When morning came, one of the team members had died. “So I had an early baptism,” he said.
Another deployment he remembers well is the aftermath of the killer tornadoes in 2009 in Joplin, Missouri. He remembers total devastation over a wide area of the city. “A major part of the town was just flattened,” he remembers.
These two stick in his mind, he said, because they involved doing what he loves to do, outreach. Martens said he felt extreme satisfaction and a sense of having done something going out into the neighborhoods and helping people put things back together and figure out where to go next.
Over the years and the 70 times he has been deployed, Martens said there have been many changes in the Red Cross. He said now, the training is almost constant. He also said there is al-most no outreach anymore, mostly working with the people who stay in the shelters.
“With outreach you work with new people all the time,” he explained. “In the shelters you are dealing with the same people every day, so your approach has to be a little bit different.”
He added there are some new programs he enjoys working with. One is the smoke detector installation program. The other is the pillowcase project. He explained the latter involves volunteers going into schools and giving each child a pillowcase. They then discuss what needs to go into a family disaster kit, and has each child write those things down on the pillowcase. They then take the pillowcase home, fill it with the things on the list, and they have a disaster supply kit.
Martens said his work with the Red Cross has been very fulfilling, and he recommends volunteering to anyone who wants to make a difference.