AmeriCorps members working in Red Cross Disaster Response take several weeks of training with the goal of becoming a "Full Responder"—someone authorized to respond to local emergencies and provide assistance without the aid of a trainer/partner. Throughout the training, but especially in the beginning, I was a bit intimidated by what I saw as the huge, extremely important responsibility given to each responder.
I tried to focus on working the computer program that's used, the proper lingo, and other intricacies of Red Cross standard protocol. These technical/mechanical things would sometimes make me so nervous I felt as if I was back in college during finals week; they started to distract me from the bigger truth that I tell anyone who asks me: "Why are you doing this?" The answer is: "To help people."
On my first disaster response, seeing what a client goes through, I remember thinking how very real everything suddenly became. In this instance, the Red Cross was helping a young woman whose home had been destroyed in a fire. The woman lived alone in NY; her family lived in another state. I immediately felt for her; at one time I had been in this exact situation. I snapped out of it and remembered to try to not make this about me, or relate to people so personally. Studying psychology, I learned that if I were to relate to every sad instance I come across, with no healthy boundary, I would go home crying every day.
As the client surveyed her destroyed belongings, her tears, angst, and shock were not only understandable, but likely inevitable. At one point, the responder I was training with, Diane (who is one of my favorite people at the Red Cross), was explaining to the client what assistance the Red Cross could offer her. I compare the feeling I got to watching a movie you know will make you cry, yet, you watch anyway.
The responder spoke to the client with objectivity, balanced with genuine warmth, giving this young woman the strength and clarity she needed during this difficult time. The client wasn't the only person comforted; I felt grateful to witness this exchange, and comforted to see Red Cross responders humbly helping their fellow human beings. As they went down the list of things to do, I brought over some water and a couple snacks. When they were finished speaking, the young woman looked at me and said "Thank you so much. It's nice to know people actually do this."
That moment was the first of many to follow when I realized how vital it is to remember my ultimate goal in these response calls. Sure, it's important to study and know the rules and protocol to be followed. But there's nothing that compares to what it feels like to help people. I remind myself of this each time I start a response shift. I anticipate many more stories to come that reflect this truth.
–Cynthia Martinez, AmeriCorps NPRC Member