When someone says “disaster!” many may run in the opposite direction. But not Cheri Curtis. Driven by the desire to give back to her community, Cheri recently became a Disaster Services volunteer at the American Red Cross of San Diego/Imperial Counties, excited to work directly with people in need in a hands-on environment. She’s accomplished that and much more by becoming a leader in the Sheltering and Feeding specialty areas of Disaster Services. She was even invited to participate in a selective national leadership boot camp. In her short time with the Red Cross, she has accomplished much- including playing a critical role in deploying to assist with a national disaster relief operation.
Locally, Cheri has been an invaluable asset for the Sheltering Team, stepping up when the shelter team lead went out of town for the summer. In doing so, she not only held the department together but also improved its processes. Cheri was on watch as Sheltering Lead when the West Fire forced thousands of people in Alpine to evacuate. She communicated with the Red Cross shelter site and fellow Shelter Team volunteers to make sure that everything was in place to guarantee a safe place for the evacuees to find comfort and care in the midst of uncertainty.
Although Cheri has proven herself to be an asset in a disaster, it’s fortunately not something she deals with on a daily basis. Instead, her day-to-day activities consist of working in the office as the Sheltering Regional Program Lead. She conducts orientations for new sheltering volunteers, organizes and facilitates department meetings, and coordinates training course offerings. She loves working with the new volunteers and explaining sheltering operations – and the big payoff is when things go smoothly in a disaster response.
Cheri shared that her most impactful moment was during her deployment to North Carolina to assist with Hurricane Florence relief efforts. She felt honored to help those affected and said, “It is my hope that I identified the best candidates to manage the shelters to the benefit of our clients.” Cheri was the only representative from the San Diego Region to be deployed to the Red Cross National Headquarters and Disaster Operations Center to receive leadership training and operational experience about disaster responses. She says, “I was trained with an incredible group of people from all over the U.S., which afforded us a unique opportunity to network and bond.”
In her time with the Red Cross, Cheri has found that the sense of purpose and accomplishment gained through her work cannot be found anywhere else. Cheri loves volunteering to fulfill her desires of personal growth and views each deployment as a learning opportunity, saying, “Every deployment is going to be different, and there's always a chance to learn about how to handle various situations that arise.”
However, her biggest takeaway comes from working alongside fellow Red Cross volunteers. She says, “Red Cross volunteers come from all walks of life, with different backgrounds and belief systems. But all that goes away when we all come together to support the common goal of helping people affected by disaster. The selflessness of the volunteers is really astounding.”
For more information on volunteering with the American Red Cross, visit redcross.org/volunteer.