By Bruce Watkins, Los Angeles Region Board Member
I believe the benefits of the PrepareLA efforts go beyond installing smoke alarms, educating people in need and even potentially saving lives (although that last benefit is a profound one). As a Red Cross team member, I entered the homes of people to help educate the residents about the importance of having working smoke alarms and having a fire escape plan, and I actually installed free alarms if needed.
Our volunteers were strangers to the primarily Chinese-speaking residents. We came from different backgrounds and did not speak their language. We were coming into their space of safety and security. It was truly heartwarming to personally watch the recipients of our service move from an understandable state of being guarded and reserved initially, to one of trust, gratitude and smiles.
I recall one Chinese woman who was living in a very small duplex with her ill mother. After installing a new smoke alarm to replace a broken one, she came up to me with a reserved but polite nod of thanks. My Red Cross teammate, who spoke Chinese, was busy educating the rest of the family on safety; so without anyone to translate I smiled and held up my hand to the woman in a gesture to wait a moment, then knelt down quickly to sweep up the few pieces of dust from the installation that were left on the floor. Turning back to her with a smile indicating I was done, she was apparently moved by the respectful gesture. She reached out with a big smile, hugged me and asked the translator who had just returned how to say “Thank You” in English. I asked the translator to reply, “Thank you for welcoming us into your home. We are from the American Red Cross. Please tell your friends and neighbors we want you all to be safe.”
As we walked away from her home, she came out and waved goodbye to us. This was just one of many encounters I had that day with the residents we assisted. It was this additional benefit of connecting with people across different cultures while promoting the mission of the American Red Cross that moved me most.
Los Angeles Region Board Member, Bruce Watkins recently helped install free smokes alarms in Rosemead, as part of the PrepareSoCal campaign. Since then, the Red Cross has reached a milestone, surpassing the 1-million mark in number of free alarms installed, nationwide.