By Mike Tierney/American Red Cross
Every March, the American Red Cross pays tribute to the volunteers who comprise the backbone of the organization. This year, the Los Angeles region has chosen three local volunteers to highlight for their work and commitment, one of whom was watching TV one minute, and signed up to change her life the next. Red Cross LA recognizes and honors Lissa Weissman as one of our newest volunteers who has already deployed twice, and possibly set the unofficial record for the quickest decision made to join the Red Cross.
The Studio City resident had never given volunteering for the Red Cross any thought until she saw a news account on the havoc caused by Hurricane Ian in Florida, along with a human-interest story about a Red Cross volunteer at the scene. Moved by the story, Weissman headed straight from the couch to her computer, conducted a search and — before she knew it, she had signed up to volunteer for the Red Cross.
Slightly more than a month later Weissman was deployed to Florida, having gone through all the required disaster response training in a few short weeks. She served two weeks in support of Hurricane Ian, where Weissman and fellow crew members brought rays of hope to the Sunshine State.
“It’s gratifying to be able to help people,” said Weissman, “I went there with no preconceived notions; I’ve never seen the amount of destruction I saw there.”
Weissman’s duties included registering people who needed Red Cross disaster assistance and providing immediate financial assistance to those who qualified. Some days were devoted to knocking on doors in affected neighborhoods as part of a mobile outfit, other days Weissman worked at pop-up support centers in shopping area parking lots.
“People have nowhere [long-term] to go,” Weissman said of those who lost their homes or had them declared uninhabitable. “But they are grateful for the help. It’s not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but every penny helps.”
Especially rewarding for Weissman was observing Floridians taking care of each other; one man she met had rescued a dozen people stranded by flooding, including a 92-year-old woman that required him to dive into floodwaters and swim up to her home. There were disappointments too, as not everyone’s claims of loss were able to be substantiated, but on the whole Weissman’s experience was satisfying.
Weissman subsequently did another two-and-a-half-week deployment in late January in Northern California where communities were beset by severe flooding. The scenes she took in and tasks she performed differed somewhat from her experiences in Florida, but the appreciation expressed by those affected were repeated day after day.
A bonus for Weissman has been befriending fellow volunteers, people she characterized as like-minded who want to help — a couple who she expects will be friends forever.
“You have to be the kind of person who goes with the flow — the first term responders learn is to be flexible like Gumby.”
The fulfillment from donating time and energy has impacted Weissman to such a degree that she is re-evaluating her career; intends to explore switching to work with non-profit organizations as a result of her time volunteering with the Red Cross, a life-changing experience that might not have happened had she not been watching a certain TV channel one evening in late October.