When disasters inspire volunteerism

by Susan Gilbert, American Red Cross of Massachusetts volunteer

Before joining the American Red Cross,rco_blog_img_contee Lisa Contee had never been a volunteer. Volunteerism was brought forward in her mind when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010.

Lisa had what she calls her “Haiti baby” that January, watching on television as members of the Red Cross assisted those most in need in what was one of the worst disasters in in recent history.

Lisa subsequently went to the Red Cross, got her CPR certification and attended a free disaster services class. The introductory class showed potential volunteers how the missions of the Red Cross help people here in Massachusetts during both small and large disasters.

Lisa was hooked. The work the Red Cross does locally was eye opening and exactly what she was interested in doing – lending that helping hand. Immediately after the training, Lisa went to the Cambridge office determined to get a position at the American Red Cross of Massachusetts. Lisa recalls that she “wouldn’t leave until they were down and ready to have me.”

To start, Lisa joined a Disaster Action Team. These teams are made up of volunteers who go out, boots on the ground, and help the clients of disasters – fires, floods, storms – anything that leaves people displaced.

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In 2014 when the Home Fire Campaign was announced, Lisa was one of the first volunteers to receive training to help install free smoke alarms in people’s homes.  She was quickly promoted to supervisor, and today is the lead and mentor to other volunteers interested in both DAT and the Home Fire Campaign.

Aside from DAT and Home Fire Campaign work, Lisa trained and was certified to drive and operate relief operations from Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles. Commonly known as ERVs, these mobile disaster relief and food trucks serve those in need in the hardest hit areas.

Lisa was deployed to the New York City area to support relief operations during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. She enjoyed the hard work and long hours doing and said “it was the hardest physical work” she has ever done.

In March 2017, Lisa went to an early morning fire where a building had collapsed. The collapse displace more than 45 people. The fire started in one unit and spread to several other units, affecting the entire building with either fire or smoke damage. The Red Cross took care of 11 families and worked with the management company to find hotel space for the displaced residents.

Lisa says that moments like these are why she stays with the Red Cross. “People helping out people is all we need.”

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