As the retired Aviation Director for the Concord Regional Airport, Dick Lewis has not only delegated numerous tasks but also has extensive experience in communication and preparedness. An American Red Cross volunteer for three years this past June, Lewis has an impressive service record. “It was something I had thought about for a long time [volunteering] but I had never pulled the trigger.” While it may have taken him awhile to finally “pull the trigger,” there is no question, he hit the ground running.
“A board member came forward and asked me to be on the board of directors but I wasn’t convinced that was the fit for me.” Lewis stated. “That was when I made the decision to register as a volunteer and I started on a disaster action team.” He recalls his first on-call experience as a part of the team: “A tree had fallen on a gentleman’s house. It feels good to go out and help someone who is experiencing loss. Our goal is to stabilize and comfort the affected. And that’s what we did.”
For the most part, Lewis’ efforts have been focused in the local arena. “We call them disasters of one – local home fires, power outages, local flooding, and things like that.” But as all volunteers know, opportunity can call at any time to serve nationally.
Opportunity came knocking for Lewis this past spring when storms hit parts of the central southern U.S. Tornadoes ripped through parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee and Mississippi, decimating anything in their wake. Houses were ripped from foundations and swept downstream by heavy flooding. Many people were left without homes and food, while some searched frantically for loved ones. Lewis received his first out-of-state call, and without hesitation, he was on his way to his first national deployment to Missouri.
According to Lewis, there was only one way to describe the group as they traveled to the stricken area – “apprehensive.” He explained that the volunteers all had various expectations but each disaster is unique as are the victims. “It can be a challenge to actually implement what you learn in a class setting to a situation. It is all a learning experience and volunteers come from different backgrounds and careers, bringing varied skills with them as a result.”
There were three districts established by the Red Cross in Missouri; St. Louis, Springfield and Cape Girardeau. “Emergency Response Vehicles from Springfield brought comfort kits and cleaning equipment to keep the mold down in West Plains,” Lewis recalls. While the disaster had not yet merited federal oversight, the state made the move to establish Multi-Agency Resource Centers (MARC) across the area and the Red Cross helped put this plan in motion. Lewis helped to coordinate communication efforts to help make victims aware of MARC services. Those seeking help had ready access to everything from faith-based and government organizations to legal advice.
Lewis served an intake role as well by registering victims at the MARC and attentively listening to their stories. Lewis also made a point of frequenting a nearby warehouse to help pack supplies for relief services. He learned what the warehouse stocked for future reference and made some new friends as well. “It’s important to build one-on-one relationships with those you are working with and working to help. Communication is important in any disaster situation,” Lewis emphasizes.
When asked why he enjoys volunteering, Lewis has a simple answer. “When you are helping someone clean up after a disaster, and they look at you with this expression that says ‘you are doing this because you want to?’ It’s a good feeling going out into the world and reminding people there are others out there who want to help and who care. I believe we supply four things; food, shelter, comfort and hope for those who need it.”
The Red Cross is always in need of volunteers like Dick Lewis, who are the heart and soul of the Red Cross mission. Whether you have 2 hours a day or 2 hours a month, there’s a place for you at the Red Cross. To learn more about opportunities in your area, visit www.redcross.org/volunteer.