By Marcus Ditty, Los Angeles Region Disaster Program Specialist
The two weeks I spent in Texas assisting with recovery efforts following Hurricane Harvey may have been the hardest two weeks of my 12 years of working in humanitarian services. My 16-hour days filled with exhaustion, hope, frustration, gratefulness, focus, and burnout were just a glimpse of what I experienced during my 14-day deployment to Texas. As an employee of the Red Cross, I was prepared for the challenging conditions I might face, especially since for more than 20 days prior to my departure, I had been involved in training and deploying more than 200 volunteers from the Los Angeles Region to help people during their greatest time of need. I knew it wouldn’t be a cake walk, I had read the reports. What I didn’t expect was that I would walk away inspired, and with a renewed belief in humanity.
I arrived in Dallas with nothing more than a desire to help. Once the leadership on the ground heard this, they quickly put me into the operations team to help streamline training and operations. I arrived with about eight other Red Cross workers who were relieving the current team. We spent two days acting like sponges, soaking up every ounce of knowledge the previous team had to offer on the process and system. After that, we went into high speed production mode. Our goal was simple: process the applications and get the people the assistance they so desperately needed.
As the trainer, I was in a unique position to hear client stories, volunteer stories, be on the high level-decision making conference calls, and talk to the agents working each individual case. But, on day number eight I hit a wall. I started to feel overwhelmed. I was tired. I wanted to go home. I needed a compass. I took a break and walked outside onto the patio hoping to have a moment to myself.
But I didn’t get that.
Instead, I got SO much more— and exactly what I needed.
You see, as I walked outside I met two volunteers and we started chatting. As in any “job” there was the ubiquitous water cooler complaints. But, what was said next not only gave me the strength to finish my assignment, it also redefined for me the meaning of the mission of the American Red Cross. These two volunteers had felt the same things as I did, but they were both talking about extending their assignment to a third or fourth week. I was set back! I didn’t understand. This was not an easy assignment—definitely not one that would encourage people to “hang out.” But, as they continued to talk, I learned that they EMBOIDIED the Red Cross mission. They were in Texas to alleviate human suffering. I wanted to further understand their motivation. I needed it for myself.
The first volunteer, whom I will call Rockstar #1, turned to me and looked me in the eye and said, “When I woke up this morning I wasn’t given another day for me. I was given another day for what I can do for these people.” I had to stop. I had to think. I needed to process what she had said. Her entire purpose revolved around helping people.
It made me stop and think about the Red Cross. It reminded me that we exist to facilitate volunteers like Rockstar #1, to help other human beings. We are an organization that mobilizes people to help other people. Whether a disaster strikes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, Georgia, Alaska, the U.S. Virgin Islands or Northern California, our volunteers show up. Day in and day out they prove to me, and the entire world, that we are One Red Cross.
My spirit rejuvenated, I went back inside to tackle the tasks and challenges of the day. And, knowing that we are all part of one human race was not just inspiring, it gave me hope and motivated me to keep going past the end of day eight, for as long as I was needed.