“Money and volunteers — those are the two things it takes to make this organization run,” said Julia Wright, executive director for the Hiwassee chapter.
Wright said the training session is for anyone who might be interested in volunteering.
“There is no cost to register. There’s no obligation,” Wright said.
The orientation is an informational session where people can find out what the Red Cross does and in what department they would like to serve. After a potential volunteer has chosen a department, they have a one-on-one interview with the director of that department.
Wright explained that Red Cross training is the same across the country, so a volunteer could train in one state and volunteer in another state in the future.
“Just like you go down to the local fire station, they are not going to send out average Joe into a house fire. They train them first, same thing with the Red Cross,” said Sandi Loftis, a volunteer with the Red Cross.
Approximately 94 percent of the Red Cross workers are volunteers. Wright said since they work with mostly unpaid staff this allows donations to go directly to the families who are being served.
One of the biggest challenges after training volunteers is keeping volunteers.
Many people get excited to volunteer when they see the Red Cross respond to a disaster, but the commitment required often leads to volunteers leaving.
“If we can get just one out of 10 that we retain ... after training, then we feel like we have done a really good job with that,” Wright said.
Within the Red Cross there are two main types of volunteers — disaster responders and support volunteers. Support volunteers are just as important as those who respond to disasters, Wright said, and behind-the scenes-volunteers and workers are the support that keeps the organization afloat.
“There are a lot of different opportunities based on whatever skills they have coming in,” Wright said
Loftis said her first disaster relief work was because of Hurricane Katrina.
“People wouldn’t think that here in Cleveland, Tenn., we would be affected, but we assisted 170 people,” Loftis said.
She helped out in Cleveland and then worked in the Red Cross call center in California.
It was hurricanes that first got Loftis interested in volunteering. Having worked in Florida, she saw how the Red Cross responded to help people after a series of hurricanes hit. When her kids started college, Loftis joined the Red Cross as a way to fill her free time.
“For the people inside the Red Cross I feel like it makes you a part of something much bigger than yourself,” Wright said. “It makes you a part of an organization that goes beyond your local community.”
Loftis stressed that the American Red Cross is not a government agency, but neighbor helping neighbor through “the American donated dollar.”
Loftis said the Red Cross brings hope that tomorrow will be better. They also help victims of disasters begin to put their lives back together.
Sometimes people become interested in volunteering with the Red Cross because they have been on the receiving end of their help in a disaster.
Loftis said someone who drove to Cleveland to escape Katrina started crying when she received her Red Cross Care kit. The woman then told of how when she was growing up a hurricane destroyed the family’s house and the Red Cross had given them a similar care kit. Her mom had told her to hold on to the kit because it was the only thing they owned.
Cathy Larson also decided to volunteer as a responder with the Red Cross after seeing them in action.
“The Red Cross has been in the back of my mind for many years.” She began thinking about volunteering with the Red Cross when she saw them responding to 9/11 on television. However, she did not begin volunteering until January of this year.
For Larson, volunteering with the Red Cross is a way to be a part of her community.
“Families are devastated and they don’t know where to start ... and the Red Cross shows up and gives them some direction,” Larson said. “It’s very fulfilling work”
The Hiwassee Chapter serves Bradley, Polk, Meigs and McMinn counties. To sign up for the volunteer orientation session, contact the Hiwassee Chapter at 472-1595.