By Joe Edwards, California Safe Corps Manager
The time between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day for many Americans is traditionally a restful, reflective week where we gather with family, watch our respective bowl game and catch up on movies and recorded TV shows. I myself spent Christmas with my family in Texas, New Year’s Eve with my wife and close friends, and slept in on New Year’s Day. For the AmeriCorps members of the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region, however, the holiday season of 2014 looked decidedly different.
During the final weeks of 2014 and the first week of 2015, the Los Angeles Region opened two shelters serving dozens of clients, at the same time manned First Aid stations during the annual Rose Parade in Pasadena and continued our normal DAT responses throughout the region.
On December 30, 2014, I visited the Echo Park Community Center where our Disaster Ops team had set up a shelter three nights beforehand. It only hosted a handful of people, but it required the work of devoted volunteers and staff working 24-7 to meet their needs. I walked inside to be greeted by Viviana Barrera and Miguel Soltero, two of our AmeriCorps members. They showed me around the shelter and talked to me about their day’s work, and mentioned their AmeriCorps teammates who had also worked shifts. I stayed only briefly, but was reminded about the dedication, hard work, and sacrifice that our AmeriCorps team embodies on a daily basis.
My role with the Red Cross is Program Manager of the California Safe Corps program headquartered in Los Angeles. For those not familiar, AmeriCorps is a federal program that allocates grants to nonprofits and other government agencies to host AmeriCorps “members.” The programs vary, but in general these individuals work with low-income, vulnerable populations for a year and earn a small stipend plus a Federal Education Award to apply to college education or student loans. City Year, Teach for America and JumpStart are a few well-known AmeriCorps programs. Many describe the program as a form of “paid volunteering” or a domestic-based Peace Corps.
I should point out that I’m not a former AmeriCorps participant. And while as manager my role is more to support the team and manage the grant that funds the program, going on visits and seeing them in action is the most rewarding part of my job. I get to witness first hand their accomplishments, and the people whose lives they help to improve.
In the last two weeks what moved me the most was watching the perseverance that so many of our team displayed during what is traditionally an easy-going work week. For those not familiar with staffing a shelter (I admit, I have very little experience), these are very long work days, often very uneventful, but you must have focus and be ready for anything. We had several members worked the dreaded 6pm – 6am shift at both shelters, one member Nidhi Chillara worked a night shift and a day shift for a 35-hour day. Sara Jayne Breuer traveled all the way from Lancaster to work the night shift at our shelter in Pico Rivera twice (that’s 160 miles round-trip)! The five-person DAT call that initiated the shelter on New Year’s Eve consisted of three AmeriCorps members from Long Beach. Tori Kanhayuwa was on that call, and worked shifts at both shelters. Sarah White was also on that initial DAT call and worked with our youth clubs the following day and weekend. Viviana Barrera literally worked a shelter shift after returning from Las Vegas the night before. Andrew Wills took two DAT calls two days in a row. Miguel Soltero worked client casework on both shelters and canvassed the area for hotel referrals. Sarah Teitell, Vilma Escamilla Duran, Taylor Mobley, Behkie Aguilar and Kerra Strum all worked shifts at the shelters as well.
For most of you reading this, these names probably don’t mean anything, and frankly that’s why I’m writing this post. We should all say thanks for these fine individuals for sacrificing what most of us take for granted. Our AmeriCorps team has grit. They are determined, they are committed and they even work holidays. They get things done for the American Red Cross even when most of us are taking it easy, and that takes immense character. We are lucky to have them, and I feel privileged to call them my colleagues.
Thank you AmeriCorps! Thank you Andrew, Behkie, Nidhi, Tori, Sarah W, Sarah T, Sara Jayne, Hannah, Kerry, Justin, Kerra, Viviana, Myonoway, Mone’, Miguel, Taylor, Vilma, Kinsey and Josue.
Just a quick note, as a Job Director for the two recent shelters we had open, it was a pleasure to work with your team. Please offer my heartfelt gratitude for their efforts. Thank you and Happy New Year.
Job Director / Regional Disaster Duty Officer
American Red Cross – Los Angeles Region