Monday, April 7, 2014

Why I Volunteer

Part II: National Volunteer Week 

By BJ McDuffie, Disaster Action Team Volunteer

My volunteer story started in Iowa. When I heard about the earthquake in Haiti in January of 2010, I had just returned to the United States to finish my Master’s Thesis after three years in Paris, France. Since I was job searching and had French language skills, I figured I might be able to help with recovery efforts if they needed more volunteers. 

The first step in the process was to take the volunteer training course, which in Iowa City, where I lived, was called Disaster University. Seeing the opportunity to help out in my community as well as internationally, I recruited my parents to attend the courses with me, since my mom works in the mental health field and my step dad is a member of the county HazMat team.

Shortly after completing the coursework, I got a job in Washington, DC working for an international nonprofit. I was excited for the move and was glad that I could transfer my chapter affiliation to DC—I would be able to jump right in to the DC Disaster Action Team and start going out on calls in my new town right away. By participating in the team when I arrived, I was able to meet new people outside of work and to have a direct impact on the greater community in a small way that I otherwise wouldn't have had. The importance of getting outside of my neighborhood and to be there to comfort my fellow Washingtonians in their times of need was something that I didn't necessarily understand the impact of until I started going out on calls. It’s made me realize how despite the many differences between folks, be it ethnic, racial, or socio-economic, when you’re standing with a family in front of their fire-damaged home in the middle of the night, the comfort we seek to provide is the same.

Volunteering with the Red Cross has made me more aware of my own corner of the world in a more purposeful way. Much of my career has focused on international development, but there are so many things to be done on the home front too. I appreciate my community and feel more connected to it on a deeper level as I strive to live up to the core values and principles of the Red Cross mission. By approaching those I meet with these principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity, and universality in the back of my mind, I have more valuable interactions with people I meet.

During Hurricane Sandy when I was on my 5th call of the night with an exhausted team under my guidance, we pressed on with humor and purpose - we would continue serving clients until the calls stopped coming. Sleep could wait another day. It was what we were trained to do.

When I look into someone’s eyes after they have lost everything after a fire and I can give them a hug and take them somewhere warm to begin planning next steps for the future, I am reminded of why I volunteer. I volunteer because I know that I would want someone to be there for me and my loved ones if I was in their place. The beauty of the Red Cross for me is that we are all community members helping each other -  neighbors helping neighbors, across all walks of life. It’s tough work, but in the end it’s worth it. The community of volunteers I’m lucky to be a part of are truly special people.    

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