Gaenor Speed’s idea of rest after working during Hurricane Irma was deploying to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Originally from Australia and now residing in Cape Coral, Fla., the indefatigable Red Cross volunteer and retired nurse has been active in her Southern Gulf Chapter since August 2016 when she took a shelter fundamentals class and was inspired to join as a volunteer. After just two months of sheltering courses, she was sent on the first of five deployments and was hooked. She became the Southern Gulf Chapter’s shelter lead just before 2017’s epic hurricane season.
“Irma was extremely stressful. There were 10 shelters open. I needed a rest after all that mental activity, something totally different.” She had the opportunity to go to Puerto Rico and she speaks Spanish fluently, so a week after Irma, she packed her bags and left.
When she arrived, she was assigned to distribute solar and gas generators to people who needed them to run their medical equipment. Depending on where clients were located on the island, Gaenor and her volunteer partner would leave headquarters between 6-7 am to deliver an average of six generators a day, returning to HQ many hours later to get the next day’s client list. One day they even delivered generators via ferry!
The biggest challenge, she says, was finding the client. “There were streets with no names, weird house numbers, often there was no phone signal to call for directions, but we wouldn’t give up.” With the help of the clients’ family, friends and the Puerto Rican people looking out for their neighbors, Gaenor and her team were able to find every client.
“The giving out of generators was a godsend to the sick people and their families and caregivers. They had been using car batteries to keep their equipment running. A lot of them couldn’t get to hospitals or treatment centers. The generators saved many lives. People loved us because we were giving them power to use their medical equipment. Talk about a rewarding experience.”
Gaenor initially deployed for three weeks, but her team was doing so well that her supervisor asked her to stay an additional two weeks. Once she got home she was happy to be back serving in her home chapter.
Volunteers like Gaenor are the lifeblood of the Red Cross. In the hardest hit areas, they not only deliver life-saving supplies, they also bring compassion and hope.
“I love what I’m doing as a Red Cross volunteer. My aim is to see more shelter managers and supervisors trained so we don’t have to call on so many coming in from other areas during a disaster. I’m very proud of all the hard work and dedication shown by my fellow Red Crossers. I could not do this without them.”
Written by Estefania Garcia