By Erianne Lewis, American Red Cross in Greater NY
"Three Questions” is an American Red Cross in Greater New York blog series featuring staff, volunteers, and partners who help carry out our humanitarian mission. Through these short interviews, we hope to shine a light on our different programs and get to know those who make this work possible.
Ed Mechmann, a fulltime attorney from Yonkers, N.Y., joined the Red Cross after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He began volunteering with his wife at a Respite Center near Ground Zero. A few years later, Mechmann joined the Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) supporting residents affected by local disasters across Westchester County. Mechmann’s flexible work schedule allows him to devote two days a week to the Red Cross, for which we thank him!
Is there a memory from your time with the Red Cross that particularly sticks out to you?
Yes, there’s a lot. I mean the Respite Center memories were very vivid. When the workers would come in, they were working on the pile. They were trying to recover bodies, and that was very intense.
One of my most remarkable memories with DAT was when we responded to a fire in Yonkers, it was downtown Yonkers, an old building, and everybody was burned out. My wife Peggy and I, and another volunteer were in the hallway of the building interviewing the clients [affected residents]. The fire was so bad that the roof had been obliterated, so we were standing there in the hallway and it’s snowing on us. We are interviewing the clients and they are very distraught. I remember this one woman that I was interviewing, and she starts crying and I gave her a hug and it was just a very vivid memory for me.
What would you say to someone who is considering volunteering with the Red Cross, but might be hesitant?
I would say, first of all, there are so many good volunteers that will help you along. You are never by yourself. If you are out on a fire, there is always someone with you and almost always someone who has a lot of experience. You are never going to be alone. There’s always going to be people to help you. We really put a lot of effort into helping volunteers move along and get more experience, feel more comfortable. The satisfaction you get from helping people in their darkest hour is really a great experience. I’ve done volunteer work in a lot of other places, and you rarely get the kind of person-to-person help. It’s direct personal contact with a person who needs help. That again is just very emotionally and spiritually fulfilling for a lot of people.
What else would you like people to know about volunteering with the Red Cross?
I think it’s great knowing that in the Red Cross, I’m a little volunteer here in Westchester, but we are active around the world. My wife deployed after Hurricane Katrina, down to Louisiana. A lot of our fellow volunteers that we work with all the time, they deploy. It’s just a great thing knowing I’m a little volunteer here, almost in my own neighborhood, but there are people just like me all around the world, who are doing the same thing with the same symbol…we are all in a fellowship of helping others. That principle of humanity, that’s at the heart of the Red Cross mission, is just amazing to me to think of. I’d say that to people: “You are getting into something that is so big and is so well respected.” I’ll tell you, when we show up to a fire site, we get a feeling of that, because the firemen all say, “The Red Cross is here,” and the police say “Oh, thank God the Red Cross is here,” and the clients say the same thing. They know that when the Red Cross is there, we are there to help. That’s around the world, but also in your own little neighborhood.
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