How One Disaster Can Inspire Change Across The Country

Story by Ali Hargrave / Red Cross Cascades Region

It’s hard to believe that it has already been six months since the 2020 Oregon Wildfires devastated our region.

Though disasters have a way of bringing people together. Through the difficulty that is a tragedy and some of the darkest moments of individuals’ lives, humanity prevails, and it’s most evident in the stories of resilience that came out of that disaster:

The remains of ‘Roam Sweet Roam’ sit at the Holiday Farm RV Resort following devastating wildfires in Oregon in September 2020. Photo by Lynette Nyman / American Red Cross.

We also got to hear from an inspired volunteer about her time with the disaster response efforts.

Emily, a Red Cross Disaster Program Manager in Tennessee, felt compelled to respond as a volunteer in the Pacific Northwest, somewhere she used to call home.

Once she found a position compatible with her skills and abilities, she deployed to Oregon and started working at a shelter to help those displaced from the fires.

Unbeknownst to her, she met a Red Cross Cascades Region board member who, volunteering her own time at the shelter, placed Emily in charge of the shelter and got to work helping her ensure the program’s success. 

For some nonprofit organizations, finding and keeping active board members can be challenging. While so many entities are fortunate to have outstanding board members, it’s worth mentioning that some struggle to ensure the board’s energy and enthusiasm match the organization’s mission and vision.

For the Red Cross Cascades Region, that isn’t an issue. The Red Cross is known for its active board members, and Emily is just one of many who happened to take notice. 

A few days into her volunteer efforts, Emily finally got to sit down and get to know MaryJane Rose and Kasey Brown. Emily was already impressed by the abilities and knowledge these women were contributing to the shelter’s success, but then they introduced themselves as Red Cross Cascades board members.

“I was so surprised!” Emily said. She quickly began quizzing these ladies on their involvement on the ground and in the boardroom.

She understood that MaryJane wanted to be a good steward of her funding, really wanted to understand what that looked like, but also she just enjoyed helping people.

Emily was struck by the boots-on-the-ground attitude these women inevitably spoke about in the boardroom and actually put to work when people needed it the most. 

When we asked MaryJane to talk to us about her experience as a Cascade Region board member, she said that “believing in humanity and knowing people genuinely care is the good of mankind at work through the Red Cross, and this is why I continue to work disasters.”

She is a shining example of how volunteering can make a difference, not only in other’s lives but their own.

Inspired by these board members and her time in Oregon, when Emily returned to Tennessee, she immediately spoke to her Executive Director to figure out how they could begin deploying members of their own board.

“As a local board member, they could understand the disasters better and then champion response teams like MaryJane and Kasey did in Oregon,” said Emily of her board members in training. 

MaryJane Rose volunteering at the recent OHSU vaccination event, January 2021.

MaryJane said she considers herself lucky to have the opportunity to both volunteer with the Red Cross as well as serve as a board member for an organization she believes has so much kindness and energy for those in need. 

Even when disaster hits us in the most vulnerable of years, Emily’s advice to us is to “always look to be inspired by others! Not everyone can show up and work the demanding hours and keep a smile on their face while successfully inspiring others, but volunteers for the Red Cross are the hope for those facing the darkest moments of their lives.”

Emily, along with MaryJane and Kasey, know how critical it is for those that respond to disasters to understand the weight of what they are signing up to do, which is assist those in need in potentially the most calamitous moments of their life.

The Red Cross is just one organization that is able to bring this phenomenon of human-goodness to light, but none of it would be so visible without volunteers like Emily, MaryJane, and Kasey.