From Tsunamis and Hurricanes to Home Fires: My Experience as a Red Cross Volunteer

Jeff Rawlins Volunteer Disaster Action Team Leader
Jeff Rawlins Volunteer Disaster Action Team Leader

Hello!! My name is Jeff Rawlins: Banker by day, Disaster Action Team (DAT) Leader by night. My interest in the Red Cross began in 2004 after watching the devastation caused by the Indian Ocean tsunami. Viewing television coverage day after day of the great loss and suffering including the lives of over 230,000 people really motivated to me to get involved. Sure, I wrote my check and made my financial contribution to the cause, but still felt like there was more that needed done. I walked into the doors of the American Red Cross of Greater Columbus and said; “I want to help”. They asked me what I wanted to do and I told them I had no idea. After being introduced to several opportunities, I chose to be a part of the Disaster Services team. I felt that the Disaster Services role would enable me to directly help people when they need help the most.


I had no idea how that decision would change my life forever.


Since then, I have received training on how to respond and help. I’ve formed relationships with other volunteers and staff members that I will probably have forever. I have had some of the funniest and some of the saddest times of my life during this experience and wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’ve also had the opportunity to assist over 250 families impacted by disasters, mostly house fires. I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet face-to-face with dozens of evacuees that decided to call Columbus their home after being forced to flee their hometowns by Hurricane Katrina. The individuals I’ve gotten the privilege to meet along the way have each left a lasting impression on my life. Some positive, some not so much, but I’ve been able to grow so much more as a person as a result.


In the past 2 weeks, I have responded to house fires that have directly impacted 10 individuals. Our response varied for each run. In some instances, simply providing a blanket to stay warm under while they contacted family members was all that one family needed. Most recently I met with a family of 6, who had moved into their home just days before an electrical fire ruined their belongings. We responded and heard their story. We helped them sort through their array of emotions. We walked them back through their burned-out home with blankets and flashlights. We helped put together a plan of where to go from here. We were able to provide the family with a hotel room for a few days and assistance to help buy some new clothing, and simply to grab a shower and a few hot meals.


Driving home from each of these experiences gives me time to reflect on just how important the role of the Red Cross Disaster Action Team is and what an honor it is to be a small part of something so large. Consider volunteering with us. It could change your life!

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