Akiak Reflection: A Red Cross Volunteer Shares Stories of her Time Spent in the Rural Alaskan Village

By: Rachel Alda, Red Cross of Alaska Volunteer

Group Shot- Rich Yvonne Rachel Steven
Red Cross volunteer Rachel Alda, third from the left, along with Red Cross volunteers Rich and Yvonne, and Red Cross Preparedness Specialist Steven Fisher. 

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to get to visit Akiak, a small village in rural Alaska, with the American Red Cross of Alaska.

Our visit was part of the ongoing Home Fire Campaign, which aims to reduce the number of home fire deaths and injuries by 25 percent. The campaign educates people about fire safety through door-to-door visits and installing smoke alarms at no cost.

Through the help and guidance of Red Cross of Alaska Preparedness Specialist, Steven Fisher, who has prior experience visiting rural villages all over the state, I was able to catch a glimpse of life outside of the “big city” I was accustomed to. This included my first time flying in a 207 aircraft, seeing salmonberry jam being prepared, and staying in school for more than 24 hours, just to name few.

During our short stay there, we met the Campfire counselors. They welcomed us warmly, showed us around the school where we stayed and introduced us to the children of Akiak, who were full of positive energy. I was able to talk to the kids and learn their names, their favorite color, and eventually, all the hottest gossip around camp.

steven and Rachel's name written on pillowcase
A child in Akiak personalizes her pillowcase by writing the names of her new friends from the Red Cross.

As Steven and I established ourselves as familiar faces with the kids, we presented the Pillowcase Project with ease as the kids eagerly participated and demonstrated their knowledge about natural disasters and preparedness.

Our game of Disaster Simon Says, followed by decorating the pillowcases with the kids was the most memorable part of the trip.

I was personally touched when a little girl pulled me towards her pillowcase to show me that she had written our names on hers. To be able to walk around town and see the kids’ faces light up as they recognized us made my day.

Along with meeting the children and educating them about flood, earthquake, and fire safety, we were also able to explore the town by going house to house and installing smoke alarms for those who needed it. The residents welcomed us into their homes with a smile and answered any questions had. In doing so, I was able to learn about their culture through the stories they told us as well as the art and food that we were shown.

Volunteers exiting home
Red Cross volunteers Yvonne and Rich finish installing smoke alarms in a home in Akiak.

Overall, I’m glad that I was able to go on this trip. It opened my eyes to a community different from my own, and I appreciate everything that they have taught me. Hopefully in the future, I will be able to visit more rural villages in Alaska with the Red Cross and experience a new side of the state while informing its residents of preparedness and safety.

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Red Cross volunteer, Rachel Alda

 

 

June Volunteer Anniversaries

Volunteers carry out 90% of the humanitarian work of the Red Cross.

Our vital work is only possible because of people like you.

Whether helping one displaced family or thousands, providing care and comfort to an ill or injured service member or veteran, or teaching others how to respond in emergencies, it’s through the efforts of ordinary people that we can do extraordinary things.cupcake_june

April & May Volunteer Anniversaries

Volunteers carry out 90% of the humanitarian work of the Red Cross.

Our vital work is only possible because of people like you.

Whether helping one displaced family or thousands, providing care and comfort to an ill or injured service member or veteran, or teaching others how to respond in emergencies, it’s through the efforts of ordinary people that we can do extraordinary things.

cupcake_aprilcupcake_may

Julie’s Journal: Day 4 on Call, Thoughts on Red Cross Volunteers

Day 4 of being on the Disaster Action Team (DAT) and another wonderful night of Anchorage being safe from disaster and home fire.

My thoughts this morning turn to our volunteers. I am a paid staff member and of course, I’m just volunteering for a week. But I thought about how these hours really do add up.

24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Someone is doing this job on Christmas. Someone is doing this job when they could be doing other things. Volunteers abstain from alcohol when on call. They can’t leave town spur of the moment. They do always have to be aware that they may be needed at any  minute.

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Red Cross of Alaska volunteers gather from all across the state at the University of Anchorage Alaska for the Alaska Disaster Leadership Institute. 

They really do sacrifice a small part of their life to be on call for DAT.

These volunteers are ESSENTIAL to Red Cross. The average value estimate of a volunteers time is $22.00 an hour. Imagine if paid staff had to be on call 24/7. It would cost the Red Cross of Alaska approximately $192,720.00 per year to pay for these services from staff.

Instead, we are able to rely upon volunteers who SELFLESSLY give their time, talents and hearts to help those in need.

I’m overwhelmed with thoughts of how much is given to us and the community by our volunteers. They are the definition of INVALUABLE!!!

Thank you, Volunteers, for giving so much to so many!

-Julie Kent, Regional Chief Development Officer Red Cross of Alaska

Julie’s Journal: Day 3 on call with the Red Cross Disaster Action Team

Day 3 on the Disaster Action Team (DAT) and Anchorage is safe and sound once again!

I was driving into downtown and saw smoke coming from the side of a house. I thought, oh my goodness, am I going to be called to this shortly?

Pulling up close to the house, I could see they had a large meat smoker going. Phew! But I was ready!

My thoughts this morning went to all emergency/disaster personal, such as our fireman, police and paramedics. This is their life every day. Out on the streets, in our community, responding at all hours of the day. Keeping us safe.

I don’t think I’ve even been more grateful or understanding of them as I am right now.

Again, I will do this job for 1 week. Emergency responders and Red Cross respond and have to be ready 365 days a year. What respect and gratitude they are due!

-Julie Kent, Regional Chief Development Officer, Red Cross of Alaska

Julie in firefighter coat
Julie Kent, Red Cross of Alaska Chief Development Officer in a vintage Red Cross firefighter’s coat

Julie’s Journal: Day 2 on Call- False Alarms and a Perspective Change

It’s day 2 of being on DAT (Disaster Action Team)! Good news is Anchorage is safe and sound from home fires and disasters so I had a full night sleep. Funny moment yesterday when the DAT captain, Bruce, was in my office. His beeper went off and I said, Oh man! Is it time? And he said, No. It’s just my buzzer to let me know it’s time for lunch. Phew!

But I was ready! Went to sleep wondering if I was going to get a call. Made sure my phone was not on Do Not Disturb and was prepared that I could get that call anytime.

I watched this video yesterday :

I’m starting to think I’m going to be sad when this week is over. How amazing to be a part of this tremendous work.

It’s very interesting being connected to disasters. I’ve never woke up in the morning thinking of whether or not something bad has happened in our city the night before. Like you, I just wake up and go about my day. There was something comforting to wake knowing that if I didn’t receive a call, then Anchorage was safe from disaster last night.

I love how this experience is really changing my daily perspective. I thought this journey would be great but it’s even better than I expected.

 

-Julie Kent, Regional Chief Development Officer Red Cross of Alaska

Julie’s Journal: Day 1 on Call

So, today starts my week of volunteering for the Disaster Action Team (DAT Team). Before I went to bed last night, I realized, I NEED TO BE READY! Because at any moment this week, I may get the call to drop everything and respond to a home fire or disaster.

I’m both excited and nervous because I assume if I do receive a call, it may not be at the perfect moment and I may have to just drop everything and go! But I do know that I’m so honored to have the opportunity to see firsthand what we do and after the initial excitement of my first call, I know the depth of our mission will take over once I’m on the scene.

If all of Alaska is safe and sound from disaster this week and I don’t receive a call,  I already feel like I understand our DAT team better and appreciate that they always hold a little part of their life aside in case they are called upon.

My appreciation of them is growing by the day!

On with Day 1!

-Julie Kent, Regional Chief Development Officer, Red Cross of Alaska

This is a series of journal posts documenting our Regional Chief Development Officer’s journey as a member of our Disaster Action Team for one week. Read Julie’s original post here:

https://redcrossalaska.wordpress.com/2017/05/19/julies-journal-my-week-with-the-disaster-team/

 

Julie’s Journal: My Week with the Disaster Team

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Julie Kent, American Red Cross of Alaska Chief Development Officer

My name is Julie Kent and I am the Chief Development Officer for the Red Cross of Alaska.

Most days, I deal with fundraising and donors but I have a unique connection to our disaster team. Because it’s what they do that allows me to ask donors to support us.

So knowing what they do every day is very important to my work.

I offered to be on the DAT team (what we call our Disaster Action Team) for a week, going on calls anytime of the day or night. Seeing firsthand what they see. Meeting with people who have just been affected by disaster. Offering help to those in need. This way, when I talk to donors, I can speak firsthand about what we do.

I’m so excited but I’m thinking I should not underestimate how hard it might be. Most fires happen during the night so lack of sleep may be a concern and may affect my daily living. Also, dealing with devastation and high emotions from those affected by disaster may be more than I expect. This is what our disaster team does EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR. I can’t wait to spend a week in their shoes.

I’m so excited to be a part of this team and will keep a log every day of my actions with the team.

I start on Monday morning. Wish me luck!

-Julie Kent, Regional Chief Development Officer Red Cross of Alaska

Volunteer Profile: Rebecca, an Event Coordinator from Juneau

RebeccaMy name is Rebecca, and I worked with the Red Cross for the Real Heroes Breakfast. It was such an amazing experience…I met some of the best people through the Red Cross. They asked me why I want to be a volunteer and it’s simply because of them.

After the first time I met the Alaska Red Cross crew I was inspired and wanted to be part of the mission. By far some of the BEST people I have ever met and I look forward to volunteering more time with them.

My part as an event coordinator is small, but every little bit helps and does not go unnoticed.

Volunteer Spotlight: Reverse Dogsled organizer Pam Lyons

Pam at race holding mic+
Reverse Dogsled organizer, Pam Lyons

Hello, my name is Pam Lyons. I was born and raised in Alaska but spent the last 4 years living abroad with my husband and children. I worked previously as a registered nurse but am now a stay-at-home-mother. Earlier this year, I completely surprised myself (and most of my friends and family) by doing something completely out of left-field. I organised Alaska’s Reverse Dogsled Race with the help of my husband and loads of volunteers. What is a reverse dog sled race? I think the best way to describe it is a “HUMANITY” powered dog sled race. The amount of generosity, time and effort required to organize the race in six short weeks came from a place of humanity.

The devastating apartment complex fire in Spenard over Valentine’s Day sent shock waves through Alaska. I, like many Alaskans, cried while reading heart-wrenching stories of parents throwing their children from windows to save their lives.

Here’s a little confession: the combination of a dark Alaskan winter and the constant onslaught of negativity in the news was leaving me feeling like humanity in America was slipping. My outlook was turning negative and my frustration levels were rising. After a few too many Facebook arguments I realized I was a part of the problem…not the solution. The solution is not a clever comeback, the solution had to be compassion.

crayon red cross signThen I saw a picture of a crayon-colored Red Cross sign taped to a door at the Spenard Rec Center.  Shell-shocked victims of the fire were finding refuge there while trying to process the magnitude of their loss. In that moment I was overwhelmed with gratitude and pride for our Alaskan Red Cross chapter. I hoped the Reverse Dog Sled Race could support their mission to provide shelter and support to all Alaskans in crisis, regardless of which side of the Facebook argument they are on.

Upon first contact with the Red Cross they were “all in” and completely believed in my wacky race. I made sure everyone knew I had absolutely ZERO experience planning or participating in a race so as to temper expectations. I didn’t ask my friends or family if they had time to help. I just assumed everyone would be as enthusiastic as I was. Looking back that assumption was ABSOLUTELY bonkers.

As I made phone call after phone call to test the waters I was met with a surprising amount of enthusiasm. From the racers pulling the sleds to the businesses donating goods and services; they all had the same message “anything we can do to help.” It turns out Alaska was “all in” to help their fellow Alaskans in crisis. It was awe-inspiring. I realized this is what Red Cross is all about. It is a network of ordinary people volunteering their time and talent to do extraordinary good in Alaska. Soon the race was coming together with an energy that was beyond me.

racersThe day of the race that enthusiasm and energy culminated into something greater than myself or any individual…the power of a united community.

One volunteer said “That was, without a doubt, one of the most worthwhile things I have ever done. The fact is, I have been with you on feeling like humanity had lost it’s footing. I would do this again and again.”

Another volunteer said “It was great to see so many people from all social and political spectrums get together for a great cause. Thank you for helping restore a little bit of faith in humanity for me.” These messages continued from racers, volunteers and spectators. The joy and goodwill on race-day was palpable and humbling.

In the end we will have raised $9,000 in support of the Red Cross of Alaska. That number still blows my mind. We got to this number with the help of people from all walks of life, and from all over Alaska.

Mahatma Gandhi said “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” I reached out of my frustrated bubble and walked in the shoes of a Red Cross volunteer. On that walk I found a community united in kindness and humanity. On that walk I found myself. Thank you Red Cross for giving Alaskans the incredible opportunity to find themselves while serving their fellow Alaskans in crisis.
race sign