NYC Member Blog Series: Disaster Response

Eli disaster pic

May 29, 2013 – Red Cross disaster responder, Eli Russ, assess the situation at a two-alarm home explosion in Queens, New York. Credit: Harry Davila / American Red Cross.

My name is Eli Russ, and I have been an American Red Cross volunteer for four years. I am currently serving the last few remaining months of my term as an American Red Cross National Youth Council member. Though I started out as a youth volunteer in my high school’s Red Cross club, I now mainly volunteer as a disaster responder for the Metro New York North and New York City Chapters. To date, I have responded to 80 disasters in the Metro NY area, ranging from home and apartment fires, building collapses, and residential vacate orders. Each disaster displaces families from their homes, and I have had the extreme privilege of being able to help people when they have needed it the most.

During each response, I have had unforgettable experiences with the families that we provide emergency assistance to. We provide short-term housing, emergency financial assistance to replace lost necessities (such as food, clothing, and medications), and referrals to agencies who can assist their with their longer-term needs.

I recently had the opportunity to assist with a function of our disaster assistance that I have not usually dealt with. The role of an American Red Cross Caseworker was a new one to me, and one that I only had heard about as a Responder (who at the scene of a disaster refers the client to one of our Caseworkers for additional support and guidance).

A fire in a big apartment building in New York City had displaced a lot of residents, and the Caseworker office anticipated a high volume of clients who would come to the office and wish to meet with a Caseworker. A call for extra volunteers to assist the Caseworker staff was put out, and I eagerly volunteered for the role since it was something I had always wanted to be more exposed to.

I certainly did not regret that decision! Not only did I learn more about what the Red Cross does to assist our clients beyond what we do at the disaster scene, but I got to experience a different level of appreciation from our clients for the work that we do. While some clients come meet the Caseworkers after receiving our field assistance, others are meeting with the Red Cross for the first time to receive assistance. While I was used to the latter, I noticed that the clients who had already met with a representative in the field came to us when they truly had no where else to turn. They did not have family or friends they could turn to, and they needed us to help them at the critical juncture between a smooth recovery process or an even more difficult journey. These families came to us with a more clear understanding of how they were going to emerge from the wake of the disaster and get their lives back to the way it was. I also got to see how a Caseworker operates and the actual assistance that can be provided (the Red Cross only assistants with the immediate, short-term, disaster-caused needs), which has improved my skills and knowledge as a responder in the field.

Whether it is a person we are meeting in the field for the first time or someone who is seeking further assistance with a Caseworker, our clients initial expressions of fear and uncertainty, yet ultimate thanks makes my experience as a Red Cross volunteer something that will forever change my life. Let it change your life too – contact your local Red Cross chapter to get involved today.

- Eli Russ

For Eli’s bio and other NYC members’ full bios, click here.

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