Volunteer Spotlight: Mercedes Nunez – Farm Pond Lane shelter 7/17/2017
Mercedes Nunez has dedicated her life to helping individuals and their families. Nunez was born in the Dominican Republic but was raised in New York where she worked as a correctional officer supervising juvenile, male and female inmates for twenty years. She then moved to Charlotte, North Carolina where she is a Family Advocate at a local high school. In addition to joining the American Red Cross this summer, Nunez also went on a mission trip to Mexico where she spent time translating for children at an orphanage as well as the mission workers.
Two months ago today, Nunez was deployed locally to assist the displaced families from the Farm Pond Lane apartment fire in Charlotte, N.C. She helped the families by translating their needs to Red Cross volunteers as well as helping to convey Red Cross inquiries to the families. When asked about her reason for volunteering, Nunez said, “I know when you don’t speak the language it can be hard. You know, being a child of immigrant parents I know how hard it can be to get help and to communicate with folks. When I saw the email to help I said ‘sure!’”
To some, Spanish is just Spanish. But Nunez explained how different dialects can affect the conversation: “It’s Spanish but I have picked up a lot of Mexican, El Salvador, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Colombian [dialects]. It’s Spanish but with a twist. The Spanish they teach you in school is different than what you speak.” When you look at two dialects side by side, they could use two different words to describe the same thing. When you do not understand the dialect, it can make understanding the conversation very difficult.
Farm Pond Lane’s shelter was Nunez’ first experience as a Red Cross volunteer. Her knowledge of two languages, as well as the various dialects, helped her to assist the families struggling through the events of their disaster in the best way. “I was already familiar with Crisis Ministry, I was familiar with the information [needed] on the forms,” Nunez explained. It was heartwarming for Nunez to see the faces of the impacted “light up” with comfort and relief when they realized the person they were asking for help could communicate with them. “It creates a sense of comfort,” Nunez added.
When asked about an individual who left a lasting impression at the shelter, Nunez shared the story of a man who had helped his young children jump out of a second story window to save them [during the fire] and had then jumped out himself. It paints a haunting visual for Nunez who lives on a second floor herself.
Nunez is looking forward to continuing her Red Cross journey potentially with more translating and Disaster Action Team (DAT) membership. Her skills as a bilingual translator will make her assistance as a Red Cross volunteer invaluable. When asked about her reasons for joining the Red Cross as a volunteer, Nunez responded, “I just wanted to help people.”
The Red Cross is always looking for volunteers who can help with sheltering, feeding or translating. If you are interested in learning how you can help, visit redcross.org/volunteer.
Authored by McKenna Estes, intern with the Western North Carolina Region communications department.