Every year, Hispanic Heritage Month is recognized from September 15 to October 15 to honor the cultures and contributions of both Hispanic and Latino Americans. The nationwide desire to educate people all over the country about the many contributions the Hispanic community has made to U.S. culture is what began this celebration decades ago. This month, we feature two fellow Red Crossers who not only celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month yearlong personally, but also professionally.
Grace Meinhofer, Division Communications Director for the Red Cross Southeast & Caribbean Division was born in “la Isla del Encanto” in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She joined the Red Cross in 2014 as a volunteer and became an employee in 2017. She quotes “I wanted to join the organization for a long time, I felt like I wanted to give back to the organization because in 2001 when 9/11 happened I was a flight attendant for United Airlines and the Red Cross came to our headquarters and provided disaster mental health services to our team. I always felt in debt to the organization for coming to help us when we needed it the most.”
Since Meinhofer joined the organization, she has made the Red Cross story accessible to Hispanic communities by connecting with them in their own language. Under Meinhofer’s direction, the creation of websites, videos, infographics, press releases, social media posts, training, events like “Activa tu Alarma” and multiple preparedness materials were key to connecting and becoming more involved with Hispanic communities. The Red Cross also engages Hispanic communities through Latino Engagement groups, connecting with community leaders to understand the community needs and provide the services they need the most.
"Our main objective is always going to be to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies. We want to help Hispanic communities be better prepared for a disaster, giving them the tools they need in their language. We provide immediate assistance and recovery support to families and individuals affected by residential fires, earthquakes, floods, forest fires, transportation accidents, bombings, explosions, and other types of natural or caused disasters — 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” says Meinhofer.
Our next feature shares how she became involved with the Red Cross and how her personal journey has helped her bring people together in the face of disaster.
Ximena Poblete became the Disaster Program Manager for the Greater Miami and The Keys Chapter in September of 2016. Before she became a Red Crosser, her journey began in Santiago, Chile where she was born and raised. When she was fourteen years old, she moved to South Florida. Poblete recalls that the hardest thing about coming to the U.S. was learning the language. She quotes “I have a very positive outlook and although I was in high school and people are mean, I wouldn’t take it personally when they bullied me about things I said wrong.” She would always respond with a simple “thank you”. Years later, Poblete decided to change the course of her life and became a Red Cross volunteer, she says the “Red Cross changed my life when I needed it most.”
In her current position, she is responsible for disasters that occur regionally, but more specifically in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. This not only includes responding to disasters but also disaster preparedness and training. Poblete understands why it’s so important to connect with the Hispanic communities in their own language and get them involved in Red Cross initiatives. In 2019, she hosted Red Cross classes in Spanish alongside Mira USA, a Florida non-profit organization that promotes the social integration of immigrants in the U.S. During these classes, she taught and trained more than one hundred Hispanic and Latin Americans on disaster response and how to work in a Red Cross shelter during a disaster. “I think this is a great way to reach the community and encourage people to become volunteers,” says Poblete. Throughout her journey from South America to the U.S., Poblete uses bits and pieces of her life experiences to bring people together and celebrate the contributions that each person offers.
Throughout the year the Red Cross continues to reach the Hispanic communities creating opportunities to become involved but also providing important information to keep themselves and their families safe. Because of the dedication of Grace Meinhofer, Ximena Poblete, and many other Red Crossers, Hispanic Heritage Month will always be a year-round celebration.
To learn more about volunteer opportunities for Spanish speakers at the Red Cross, please visit cruzrojaamericana.org/voluntarios.
Written by Maria Arango