For My Birthday, I Got a Hurricane

Early last week, I was looking forward to a Friday night party with friends, family and Red Cross donors and volunteers. Friday was my birthday and almost-one-year-anniversary as the Director of Marketing and Communications with the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. I was making plans for a menu and music for the people who’ve made my 32nd year such a good one.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Earl was spinning like a sawmill blade toward the Outer Banks, and D.C.’s national headquarters (HQ) were making plans of their own.

Mid-week, I got the deployment call to go “somewhere on the eastern seaboard, probably Cape Cod” and help work with national and local media. Together, we would inform people how to prepare for the worst and help in the areas that would be hit. I would fly out first thing Thursday morning, and expect Earl to strike the Cape the evening of my birthday. Within minutes of national HQ’s call, Chicago Red Cross co-workers and volunteers began helping me prepare to deploy.

One tweeted, “Happy Birthday. I got you a Hurricane.”

I cancelled the party, triaged the coming week’s work, and packed within hours of recieving the call. Earl was to become my first deployment and my first hurricane.

We were lucky in Cape Cod. By the time, Earl approached New England, he was tired, distant and forgiving. Besides the flurry of media and an evening of wind and rain, we came out unscathed Saturday morning. The work volunteers had done to prepare to shelter more than 10,000 people in Cape Cod, was patiently and cheerfully unwound. Cots were collapsed and stored. Shelters were closed and host partners thanked. New friends exchanged email addresses in time to grab lunch and enjoy a sunny Labor Day weekend.

On Saturday, several local Cape Codders and vacationers asked me throughout the day whether or not all of that preparation – the largest shelter operation Cape Cod had ever planned – had felt like a waste.

Not at all. Not to any one of us. While somewhat obvious, people take for granted that as a Red Cross volunteer you witness disasters. Whether it’s a home fire in Chicago or a hurricane in New England, once someone who has lost everything desperately hugs you — a stranger — when they come into a shelter, you feel nothing but relief when a near-miss occurs.

The preparation wasn’t for nothing. It was practice for the next disaster. It was the proverbial “better than what could have been.” It was an opportunity to develop friendships with other volunteers who have fat, juicy hearts, like the remarkable people from the Cape Cod Red Cross and the many others who were deployed along the seaboard.

Near-miss disasters are a great excuse to talk to strangers, like Joan Cook, about how we can work together to prepare. Joan has watched that Cape coastline erode and seen what hurricanes can do to the homes of her neighbors, so she’s found a good balance between being serious about taking precautions, while maintaining serenity as the storm approaches. Watch her story here.

For my birthday, instead of a hurricane, I got to experience a collective sigh of relief with other volunteers. I got to witness Joan’s serenity – the kind that only comes preparation and life experience. I got a pretty great life experience of my own doing what I do best as a deployed Advanced Public Affairs Team volunteer.

For all of us, the sun shone brighter than usual on Saturday because nothing really happened Friday night. Do you want to know what that feels like? Learn about how to put your talents, gifts and experience to use as a volunteer for the Red Cross, and be sure to look me up and tell me about your first deployment.

Written by Jackie Mitchell

3 responses

  1. That's what it's all about–we're there IF we're needed. You never know when we will be needed, but if we're ready, what a relief it is for those in need that we ARE already there and waiting. You Go, Girl!!

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