Tuesday, August 26, 2014

AmeriCorps and the American Red Cross: 20-Year Partners in Disaster Response

This post originally appeared on the Corporation for National and Community Service blog: http://bit.ly/1tFJ8wF

By Gail McGovern

AmeriCorps NCCC members answer phones at the American Red Cross headquarters in North Brunswick Township, NJ. (Corporation for National and Community Service photo)
Red Cross CEO says national service members are among the most enthusiastic and capable community responders 

Over the past 20 years, the American Red Cross has been proud to work with hundreds of AmeriCorps members across the country in responding to disasters large and small, helping people prepare for emergencies, supporting disaster recovery programs and teaching life-saving skills.

Since its founding in 1881, the American Red Cross has been preventing and alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and turning compassion into meaningful action. AmeriCorps, which was founded 20 years ago, shares this commitment to mobilize people into extraordinary action and has been an important partner.

Hundreds of members have served in AmeriCorps programs at Red Cross locations throughout the country in the past 20 years, presenting disaster preparedness education at schools, community groups, and local events. Citizens learn how to prepare for disasters with the proper supplies and emergency kits, how to practice a family emergency plan, and train in life-saving skills such as CPR and First Aid.

The AmeriCorps VISTA program at Delta State University's Center for Community and Economic Development in Cleveland, MS joined the American Red Cross Northwest Mississippi Office, Gulf Coast Veterans Advocacy Council, and service providers to prepare 175 personal hygiene bags for the homeless on MLK Day 2014.
The relationship between the Red Cross
and AmeriCorps has served to
strengthen the Red Cross, providing
both meaningful service for
AmeriCorps members as well
as hope and comfort in times of
crisis to thousands.
Kaleena Wright, who served as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Red Cross in Quincy, IL, from 2007-2008 to build community disaster preparedness, remembers the impact of her work: “One of the greatest moments in my time with the Red Cross was that moment directly after a presentation to a community partner and you see the glimmer of new knowledge in the crowd. Knowing that the information I shared was important and would continue to be important no matter where they lived, where they were in their lives, made the moment all the better.”

In addition, more than 1,500 AmeriCorps members have deployed with us on disasters large and small across our nation since 1994. Whether it’s a single-family disaster in a local community or a major national disaster such as Superstorm Sandy, tornadoes, floods or wildfires, AmeriCorps members have worked with us to bring help and hope to people in need.

When it comes to disaster response, Red Cross AmeriCorps members are among the most enthusiastic and capable community responders on an assignment. All members serving with the Red Cross start their program year in training to assist with Disaster Response, and they put that training to use helping people. Members deploy in under 24 hours and arrive to the disaster areas ready to serve in a variety of roles – including shelter operations, disaster assessment, mobile feeding units, and client casework – always willing to serve where the need is greatest.

In meeting the needs of others in preparedness, response and recovery, AmeriCorps members have proven to be so valuable that many have been asked to remain a part of the American Red Cross in full time capacities. One of the most rewarding aspects of our partnership is to see firsthand how an AmeriCorps experience prepares members for a lifetime of service. Throughout the country, AmeriCorps alums work in a variety of Red Cross staff roles, and often, a staff member’s Red Cross story is inseparable from their AmeriCorps service.

Take for example Harley Jones, AmeriCorps alum and Regional Chief Operating Officer for the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. When asked what impact AmeriCorps service had on his career, Harley responded, “The biggest impact I felt was my work in providing disaster relief directly to people in need. At both local fires and in disasters around the country I will never forget the faces of the people we assisted when they needed us. Spending a year of my life focusing on something other than myself was the most rewarding of all.”

The relationship between the Red Cross and AmeriCorps has served to strengthen the Red Cross, providing both meaningful service for AmeriCorps members as well as hope and comfort in times of crisis to thousands.

The 20th anniversary of the founding of AmeriCorps is a time to offer congratulations to a vital partner and a heartfelt thanks to every AmeriCorps member, current or past, who has worked with us. Your service has made this nation a better place.

In times of emergency, people across our nation turn to the Red Cross, and the Red Cross depends on the important service of AmeriCorps members. I very much look forward to seeing what the next 20 years of partnership will hold.

Gail McGovern is President and CEO of the American Red Cross.
Brought to you by AmeriCorps NCCC, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
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