“Do you have any smoke alarms, and are they working?”

By Angela R. Wilson/American Red Cross of Alaska

Ms. Sarah Leonard, a Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest and AmeriCorps Member, has been serving as a full-time volunteer with the American Red Cross of Alaska for the past year. Leonard is mostly responsible for the preparedness programming in the Southcentral territory, but she also serves as a duty officer on a Disaster Action Team (DAT), and handles casework and recovery planning in order to assist residents displaced by disasters. She has presently volunteered over 1,000 hours in less than a year.

Sarah Leonard, Preparedness & Casework Specialist

JVC Northwest and AmeriCorps is a supportive organization to Red Cross that has programs to help individuals desiring to learn more in-depth about different humanitarian cultures. Candidates are sent to a specific location within a specific geographic area as a volunteer for a year.

The Red Cross has partners, donors, employees and volunteers that form a powerful support system to assist in providing whatever may be needed to support individuals and families before, during and after disasters, and each group offers support to the humanitarian cause in their own way. The most significant common thread among the supporters is their shared passion for the vision, mission and values of the Red Cross.

“Sarah has thrown herself into Red Cross over the last year, approaching all aspects of her position with energy and enthusiasm, which has been picked up by volunteers and staff alike,” said Maria Caruso, Disaster Workforce Manager for the Red Cross of Alaska.

Teaching youth preparedness courses is one activity among many that Sarah has done in her tenure with the Red Cross as a Preparedness and Casework Specialist. Red Cross youth preparedness programming includes courses and resources like The Pillowcase Project and Prepare with Pedro, which are part of the American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign. Red Cross volunteers work closely with schools and youth-serving organizations to raise awareness of disaster risk and build resiliency among young people.

Sarah teaches The Pillowcase Project to youth ages 3rd through 5th grade in Southcentral Alaska.

Also in support of the Home Fire Campaign – a nationwide Red Cross program created in 2014 that aims to reduce home fire deaths and injuries – Leonard teaches families about home fire safety and installs smoke alarms, free of charge to residents.

“Her willingness to help with anything and everything has been a huge asset to our program,” said Caruso. Leonard has visited over 100 homes in the Anchorage area in less than 10 months.

“I have replaced fire alarms older than me!” Leonard laughed.

“One rainy afternoon, a fellow volunteer and I had a smoke alarm appointment in a quiet part of town. We trudged up to the front door, equipped with our ladder, electric drill, a box of new smoke alarms, a clipboard, and some screws. An elderly couple greeted us at the door and welcomed us in. The two of us politely took off our boots to avoid dirtying their carpets, and we started with the usual exchange of ‘Hello, how are you? What a rainy day!’ And finally – ‘So, do you have any smoke alarms, and are they working?'” reflected Leonard.

When carrying out this outreach program, Red Cross volunteers can go into the community and spend time building relationships and trust while sharing home fire safety information and installing new, 10-year lithium battery smoke alarms, free of charge to any individual or family that needs them.

Volunteers Sarah and Irene prepare to make home visits to share home fire safety information and install free smoke alarms in homes in the Anchorage area.

As Leonard remembered the elderly couple from that day, she remarked, “It was so fun to share a bit of time with them, meet their dog and talk about our own pets at home, and talk about why we volunteer with the Red Cross.”

“I enjoy explaining how much I love the commitment, dedication, kindness, and compassion of Red Cross volunteers and staff, and how I have loved my time serving with the Red Cross of Alaska,” said Leonard. “I hope to continue volunteering with the Red Cross in the future!”

If you’d like to learn more about Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest, visit their website at https://jvcnorthwest.org. To learn more about the American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, please visit redcross.org/homefires.

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