Ten years ago this week, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, fast becoming one of the most devastating natural disasters in U.S. history and triggering a nationwide disaster relief effort of an unprecedented scale. As this disaster unfolded before the shocked eyes of the country, thousands were driven to get involved and help in whatever capacity they could.
For many, Hurricane Katrina served as their first venture into volunteerism with the Red Cross. For others, it was a continuation of a life committed to service. A decade later, many of those who responded to help the Katrina-affected communities get back on their feet continue their volunteer service, providing compassion and comfort to those in need throughout the country. We asked them to share their stories from Katrina and their experiences over the last 10 years. Here’s what some of them had to say:
“When I first started working at the American Red Cross Puerto Rico chapter as Communications Officer, Katrina happened. I [didn’t] know how the chapter works, but immediately my partners at work show me the most important thing – how to give without being there. From the distance I collaborate doing like dozens of fundraisers events. Lots of people calling to asked how they can help. The feeling was amazing, exhausting, but amazing…I no longer work for the chapter, but thanks to the American Red Cross I know the humanity still exist. Thank for such amazing opportunity.” – Miguel Chinea, Puerto Rico
“It’s my 10 years as Hurricane Katrina inspired me to join! I’m in the Southern Tier Red Cross Chapter out of Endicott, New York! I just stay local! Been and worked [through] the floods of 2006 and 2011! I met many Red Cross workers from across the country through those floods but ’06 flood i worked and met the most!! I’m now doing home fire prevention and smoke alarm installs!!” – Dave Hitt, New York
“I began my Red Cross career after Hurricane Charley hit my state of Florida. I had been with the Red Cross for about three months when Katrina hit and I was deployed to Mobile, Alabama and then onto Bay St. Louie, Pass Christian and Waveland, Mississippi. I was assigned to an ERV [Emergency Response Vehicle] and handed out water, hot food and snacks to people who needed it. They were so grateful for anything we could give them and always had a smile for us when we came by. I still to this day cannot think about my time in MS without tearing up. It was a leap into the fire for my first deployment, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Just received my 10 year pin and good lord willing many more.” – Wendy Mitchell, Florida
“I began volunteering with Red Cross in 1969 during Hurricane Camille with my mother. During Hurricane Katrina I opened a shelter at Harrison Central Elementary School (MS) along with my sister. We lost our homes and had to stay at the shelter until it closed. We thank all of the volunteers that came to help. I will continue to volunteer with Red Cross. It is a privilege to help others in time of need.” – Verna Walker, Mississippi
“I was unaware The American Red Cross would become my passion . Watching the Thailand 2004 Tsunami I cried…seeing the destruction water could leave behind. Time marched on until Hurricane Katrina while, in the warm comfort of my home with my family watching the news, seeing people and children on roof tops waiting for help, animals displaced and people dying my heart sank. I heard a public service announcement that the American Red Cross needs volunteers, I wrote down the number that day [and it] changed my life. Since that time I have become a Disaster Action Team captain in my home town, a Community Outreach Volunteer, and a regional biomedical ambassador. The American Red Cross has become a way of life for my family – from my niece and sister volunteering to my Grandchildren marching in parades assisting with events teaching them the importance of that red vest . I give my time and talent not because of any reward or prestige , but because someone that has lost everything needs a helping hand.” – Robi Wall
“The relief work for Hurricane Katrina was stressful, exhausting, both physically and emotionally, and fraught with constant challenges and problems to solve, but it was also incredibly rewarding. Probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I feel very fortunate to have been able to have made a difference, to help care for people who have no place to live and no jobs to return to, and I am honored to have been part of the massive Red Cross volunteer efforts.” – John Burnap, Rhode Island (excerpt from a Providence Journal article John wrote in 2005 upon his return from serving at Katrina)
A lot has changed in the 10 years since Katrina. But the heart of Red Cross volunteers remains the same. As we reflect on a Katrina we also celebrate the spirit of compassion which led so many to selflessly serve those in need across the country each and every day. THANK YOU, RED CROSS VOLUNTEERS!!
Please continue to share your stories in the comments below!