AmeriCorps Spotlight: Vince Aarts

Did you know that approximately 800,000 people have served as AmeriCorps members since 1994? As we wrap up AmeriCorps week, we want to thank all of our AmeriCorps volunteers who have served and are currently serving. We’ve also asked another one of our Red Cross members to share his experiences, which we have copied below. Enjoy and have a wonderful weekend!

After 12 years as a wild-land and all risk firefighter, I decided in 2011 that it was time to “put down the pulaski” and consider a change in careers. While I enjoyed the thrill and hard work of tactical firefighting, I had always imagined finding myself working on a more strategic scale. As a result I began graduate classes at Portland State University in public administration and set out to seek an opportunity that could get me some much needed experience in emergency management.

When I first saw the opening at the American Red Cross via the AmeriCorps program, I knew right away it could be an excellent opportunity for me. The support and development opportunities that AmeriCorps provide have been instrumental in helping me to understand the complexities and realities of my chosen field. Additionally, this service year has provided the flexibility and even the encouragement to pursue my academic career simultaneously.

My assigned task has been to coordinate and help to build the Shelter Team concept. The shelter teams are composed of Red Cross volunteers who train together to be prepared to quickly provide mass care to their neighbors when there is a disaster. It has become a constant source of amazement just how willing these volunteers are to sacrifice their time and energy to help people under the worst conditions.

Perhaps one of the most powerful experiences I have had with AmeriCorps was the first fire I responded to as a member of the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team. That day a large apartment fire had burnt out six units and displaced 15 people. I cannot forget the young man who had escaped the fire with no physical injury but was all the same deeply traumatized. The fire had started in his apartment, and he ran out of the building with nothing but a pair of pajama pants on.

At that moment that was the only thing that he owned in the entire world, just those pair of pants. I will never be able to adequately describe the sensation of loss and confusion in his face. That loss was combined with the guilt that the fire may have somehow been his fault.

The Red Cross volunteers immediately began to restore this man’s sense of equilibrium. Calmly and confidently clothes and shoes were purchased for him to wear, he was provided with a hotel room for the night, some money for food and other essentials and Disaster Mental Health nurses came in to help him to cope with the powerful emotional issues he faced. By the time the team left, the young man was firmly on the road to recovery.

I was so proud that day that AmeriCorps had provided me with the opportunity to join with the Red Cross and provide such desperately needed help to a fellow Oregonian. It was a powerful lesson in humility and a real chance satisfy my desire to help others. My AmeriCorps service year will, subsequently, be an experience I never forget.