Eliza Villanueva, a new Red Cross volunteer at her very first event, shares her experience during Sound the Alarm, helping to install free smoke alarms in the Goulds neighborhood of Miami.
I showed up at Goulds Park just after nine in the morning, nervous about being late. There were Red Cross vehicles in the parking lot and a group of people sporting red shirts at the entrance. Upon entering, I scanned name tags to find my point of contact. An upbeat woman noticed my curiosity and instructed me to head inside where everyone else was gathered. I walked into a sea of red shirts and lively chatter – more folks in red shirts having coffee and pastries, ready to embark on Sound the Alarm, a national Red Cross campaign to install free smoke alarms and provide fire safety education in at-risk neighborhoods. This year, the Red Cross pledged to install over 100,000 smoke alarms in 100 cities across every state, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
To my surprise, there was a great turnout of volunteers and partners. I have been volunteering since I was 12 for a variety of organizations on three continents, but this was my first event with the Greater Miami & the Keys Chapter of the Red Cross. It was reassuring to know there are many others who chose to spend their morning in service to others.
Once all the volunteers were registered, supply buckets filled and logistics settled, we heard from executive director of the chapter, Debbie Koch, and received a brief tutorial on what to do and what to expect. As soon as the introduction was over, teams picked up their supplies lined against the wall and headed outside. It seemed that everyone knew exactly what to do and where to go – they were on a mission. Small teams of four to five dispersed to various parts of the assigned neighborhood and began knocking on doors.
I had the opportunity to work with an all-star veteran team that answered all my questions throughout the event. You could see their chemistry and experience unfold as residents opened their doors to hear what we had to say. James introduced himself and explained why we were there and what we were doing. “Yes, ma’am or yes, sir, the smoke alarms are free,” he would repeat many times throughout the day. Noemi patiently went through the fire safety checklist with the residents, asking them pertinent questions about their home and providing fire safety information and tips. Listening to her, I noticed how comprehensive the Red Cross is with the information they give out. While this is taking place, James, Luis and Jessica are moving swiftly around the house, working quietly to install the new smoke alarms, each equipped with 10-year lithium batteries, only stopping to ask about an existing smoke alarm.
The work conducted by the Red Cross is carried out primarily by volunteers. In fact, 90 percent of their workforce are volunteers. These individuals all had other jobs and commitments, many had small children at home, yet chose to spend their day outside in the community (some driving for two hours to participate) installing smoke alarms in the hopes of preventing deaths caused by home fires.
Over the course of two weeks and 16 events in the South Florida Region (with five in Miami-Dade County) more than 750 volunteers installed more than 2,100 free smoke alarms in local homes, making nearly 900 households safer.
These efforts are reason enough for me to continue participating in Red Cross events. The teamwork demonstrated along with the friendliness and warmth I received from the other team members were unexpected bonuses. I’d say my first event was a success!
If you’d like to participate in the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign throughout the year, or find out about other volunteer opportunities, please visit redcross.org/SFLvolunteer.
Photos by Red Cross volunteer, Luis Beltran.