Sleeves Up, Hearts Open, All In

An Impression that Sparked 20 years of Volunteerism

by Susan Gilbert, American Red Cross of Massachusetts volunteer

One day in the late 1990s, Tangley Lloyd was listening to the radio while on vacation on Cape Cod. A Red Cross volunteer working in disaster relief was being interviewed.  Part-way through the interview, the Red Cross volunteer’s beeper went off and almost before the segment was over, he was on a plane heading to the disaster site. Tangley thought herself, “This is great! This is what I want to do!”

Enthusiastic volunteer

After Tangley returned home, she signed up to volunteer. As a licensed therapist and social worker, her mental health background proved an excellent fit for the Red Cross. As a Disaster Mental Health volunteer, Tangley’s mission is to be supportive to clients. She and her team help them “get back up and running,” restoring them to their level of pre-disaster functioning, offering plenty of community resources as needed and available.

Superior service

Tangley’s first assignment was in 1998, helping out in Oklahoma after it was ravaged by their largest-ever tornado. This experience was very special to Tangley because she met Red Cross volunteers from all over the country. Some even came in wheelchairs and crutches, yet everyone had a job to do (e.g., computer work) and were a huge asset to the relief effort.

“I was there for two weeks and loved every minute of it. It opened my world to see the generosity of the American people. I see these massive group efforts at every disaster, big and small. People give above and beyond what they can. It’s amazing.”

Over Labor Day 2016, Tangley went to Baton Rouge as part of an Integrated Condolence Care Team. Many people had moved to Baton Rouge from Katrina after they had lost everything, including loved ones. “I listened to someone for 2 ½ hours who’d lost her grandma. It was hard but we were the best of the best, and I’m proud to be a part of the Red Cross.”

Special meaning

Supporting the Red Cross has special meaning for Tangley. Her father, who she never knew, was killed over Guam in World War II during a special Navy mission in June 1944, and his body was never found. Also, Tangley’s uncle served as a pilot in Korea, who became missing in action in 1952.

Tangley recently attended a Red Cross “Service to the Armed Forces” event: the inauguration of a memorial statue at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne. This emotional experience made her feel that “things had come full circle” with her family’s sacrifices, adding that, “My life is now moving toward getting more involved with the Red Cross.”

The Department of Defense (DOD) contacts the families of MIA, POW, and KIA soldiers. Tangley also attended a local meeting with her daughter for MIA families. This, too, was emotional for Tangley. “It was the first time I’d really talked about this with those who’d experienced the same thing.”

At the meeting, experts explained how in searching for bodies they look for bones and matching DNA samples. Tangley learned that reconnaissance missions in Guam recover approximately one person per year, and that a rice paddy farmer had seen her father’s plane go down in low tide, with only fuselage showing, so there was no chance for survivors.

“The DOD has done such an incredible service. I never knew there was a vehicle for this. The people are amazing; everyone is very respectful and appreciative. And they’re apolitical, which is fantastic.”

Labor of love

In addition to providing relief to disaster victims, Tangley supports Red Cross staff. Many volunteers become tired, especially if they’ve just come from another disaster in another state.

“I love volunteering with the Red Cross, and plan to be a part of it as long as I can. As long as I can still hear, which is key as a mental health professional, I know I’ll be able to help people. It’s very rewarding, and close to my heart. The Red Cross means a lot to me, and there’s a place for everybody.”