Disaster volunteer rises from apartment fire ashes

By Mimi Teller, American Red Cross Los Angeles Region Volunteer

When the fire started to consume the two buildings next to her mother’s Panorama City home, Kenia Perez received a call to rush over. Kenia helped everyone safely get out of the home including the family pets but then watched, feeling utterly helpless, as dozens of neighbors fled their burning homes.

A mother of two young girls and studying at Los Angeles Mission College to be a special education teacher, Kenia first joined the Red Cross in March 2020 when COVID-19 closed all schools and the Red Cross partnered with the Los Angeles Unified School District to provide food to families in need. Hundreds of volunteers were required daily to successfully distribute food to thousands of families, and Kenia stepped up to help. When it came to watching dozens of her mother’s friends and neighbors lose their homes, the only thing Kenia could do was watch when she really wanted to act.

While watching from the sidelines, however, Kenia witnessed the Red Cross arrive on the scene and immediately attend to those affected by the disaster. While the Red Cross passed out blankets, water and snacks and arranged lodging for 54 residents, Kenia realized there was a way she could be of assistance the next time a crisis struck her community.

Kenia soon connected with Aubrie Beukelman, a Red Cross Disaster Program Specialist and a Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) member, who responded to the Panorama City disaster. Aubrie apprised Kenia of the many Red Cross volunteer opportunities, but it was DAT and sheltering opportunities that captured Kenia’s interest.  

Able to speak both Spanish and English fluently, Kenia realized the value she can bring both to the Red Cross and her community.

“I want to help people understand what to do when they are affected by disaster” Kenia said. “I am always translating for my mother and my family so I have that experience and can help people who need information.”

While her mother helps her daughters with their online schooling, Kenia is eager to start her Red Cross online training, which includes CPR/first aid and courses on Disaster Cycle Services, Mass Care and Psychology of First Aid to name a few. The courses are all offered online and free of charge to any Red Cross volunteer, along with dozens of other training that cover the broad spectrum of services provided by the Red Cross, such as Services to the Armed Forces and Blood Services.

The Red Cross responds to an average of 60,000 disasters every year and 90% of those disasters are home fires. It was one of those home fires that inspired Kenia to join the disaster relief volunteer workforce. While the American Red Cross mission aims to decrease disasters and their damage across the nation, we need to recruit more heroes like Kenia to help us get there.

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