Cheri Boyer recalls the days prior to Hurricane Irma’s landfall as a period of “torture,” referring to the long anticipation and anxious build up to the storm. But after Irma came and passed, to her relief, the Boyer family home on Fort Myers Beach was spared the worst of the damage.
Yet not all communities in and around where she lived were as lucky. “Grateful and so humbled,” as she said of her own fortune, Boyer saw the devastation and heartache in towns near hers—like Bonita Springs and Lehigh Acres—and felt compelled to do something to help.
“I felt that they needed me,” she said -of those whose lives were turned upside-down by the storm.
After initially volunteering for a few days with a grassroots organization preparing meals for families who had lost everything, Boyer learned that the Red Cross still had shelters open and was looking for volunteers to help.
Soon after, Boyer connected with the Red Cross, went through the necessary training, and got to work at an emergency shelter set up at the Estero Parks and Recreation Center.
“I was there for two weeks. It was incredibly busy days,” she recalled of this first volunteer assignment helping hundreds of mostly Latino families, including many young kids, who found refuge at the shelter.
“I have a huge recollection of the kids,” she said. “They were just amazing. I remember one of my jobs was to help get the children on the right buses to go to school [from the shelter].”
She explained how as soon as the kids were on the buses, their moms would approach her and fellow Red Cross workers to ask for supplies they could use to clean up their badly damaged homes while their kids were at school.
“The families were so gracious,” she added. “We just saw humanity at its finest.”
Boyer worked long hours over a period of 14 days at the shelter, helping to make the residents as comfortable as possible. And she did all this alongside fellow volunteers from across the state and across the country.
Boyer has since continued to help others through the Red Cross over the last five years, mostly as a caseworker helping residents upended by disasters like home fires. In this role, she walks families through the recovery process, advocating for them and connecting them with resources.
Asked why she has remained so driven to help, she answers: “I feel a commitment to what I do… Someone needs to do it. I work with such committed people. I can’t let them down.”
To learn more about Red Cross volunteer opportunities near you, visit www.redcross.org/volunteer.
Written by Michael Devulpillieres, American Red Cross