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by Brenda Grose
Serving others – that’s the common denominator that drives the dedication for two local women, Connie Richards and Cindy Mitchell, in their work as American Red Cross Volunteers.
Recently Richards made the trek to Louisiana as part of a team providing meals in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. It was a first for Richards, driving an ERV (emergency response vehicle) on a two week deployment, but not the first time she was part of disaster relief. She also was in Florida as part of a disaster team responding with help after Hurricane Irma.
Richards shared her experience in Louisiana as part of a team providing two meals per day to locals and anyone in need. The meals were prepared in a huge kitchen in one of the local churches by volunteers from a Southern Baptist Church in Oklahoma. Driving ERV to distribute the meals, they would simply go up and down streets, honk the horn and people would come out to get the meals.
“The hours were long and it was hard work,” said Richards, “but people bless us, as much or more than we bless them.”
Sharing a particular memory, Richards said one day while making the daily drive through the streets a woman she had come to recognize came to the van like always, but this time she handed Richards three beautiful roses saying, “these are the only ones that survived the hurricane.”
In the midst of her own loss, this lady thought to share something special with the driver of a meal van. That act of kindness is just one example of why both Richards and Mitchell described their work as “humbling and rewarding,” with Mitchell adding, “we find that those who have the least or have lost the most are the most thankful and appreciative.”
Looking back at Richards’ beginning with Red Cross crisis management and disaster relief, Richards explained she was in a meeting with her ambulance crew and Red Cross members were introducing Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM). Being part of an ambulance crew as a first responder, Richards understood the need to reach out to those people on the scene of “bad calls,” as she described them. Sitting in that meeting she knew she wanted to be part of the debriefing, the conversations to get feelings out and recovery for those “first on the scene” people. Richards found a class to take for training and signed on to work in that capacity as a Red Cross volunteer for over ten years. During that time she joined a local CISM group and then transitioned into Disaster Action Team (DAT) which focuses on in person, first response to people directly affected by fires, floods or other natural disasters. This is the role Richards approached Cindy Mitchell with after her retirement as Hospice Volunteer Coordinator. Mitchell found it to be a perfect fit and has been with Red Cross for three years.
In their role as DAT members, Richards and Mitchell travel an approximate 50 mile radius to respond in person to the immediate recovery needs for those with loss from fires mostly, but they are trained in all areas. Richards and Mitchell are quickly on the scene and provide money for immediate needs. Additionally, in their role as recovery case workers a phone call is made within 48 hours to those experiencing the disaster loss and through that conversation further need is determined. Resources are then provided for clothes, food, shelter and any other determined necessities. Richards and Mitchell work with a team taking turns weekly to cover disaster response in both Iowa and Nebraska assigning and overseeing case management.
Richards commented the Red Cross is always looking for new volunteers interested in helping with any of the many programs they provide. The time commitment is by choice and there are a number of programs that reach out in a variety of ways. One interesting program explained by Richards, came about by volunteers at disasters seeing people fleeing with a pillowcase of possessions. It became the Pillowcase project. Volunteers visit school children 3rd-5th grade and provide plain pillow cases for the children to draw on. While they are “decorating” their pillowcases, the volunteers provide suggestions for how to fill their pillowcases in case of an emergency evacuation from their homes. They suggest things like flashlights, favorite toys, hard candy, a small blanket and pillow, a family picture or anything that might be comforting if they should have to leave their home. Students are always reminded that in the event of a fire, they should only grab their pillowcase if it is on the route of escape.
In conversation, Mitchell shared The American Red Cross Mission Statement: “to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.” This statement sums up the passion and dedication exemplified by both Connie Richards and Cindy Mitchell, two local women, making a difference in other’s lives.
“Volunteers turn compassion into action through a diverse array of programs and services.”
Anyone interested in being part of the Red Cross Organization should contact: