Volunteering could make big difference


Posted: Friday, March 28, 2008

Face to face. That's what kind of help is best when you're dealing with a disaster.

You don't want to have to pick up a phone, explain all the details and then wait while the person on the other end makes calls to take care of you.

Sounds like a no-brainer, but that's what central Kenai Peninsula residents have been doing since the Red Cross shut its doors in Kenai last fall.

Now there's a chance volunteers can bring the agency back to life locally, instead of having to call Anchorage for help.

This weekend there will be free disaster training for those who have the desire to make that difference.

The training begins today from 6 to 9 p.m. at Soldotna Sports Center with a history of the Red Cross and an overview of its mission and principles. It continues from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, showing volunteers how to do client casework and provide victims of a family fire or other emergency with food, clothing and shelter. The training ends Sunday with a shelter operations simulation from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

All of this is part of a program designed to reach out to the state's more rural areas including the peninsula and other training sessions will be held in Homer in May and in Seward in April.

The purpose is to have a disaster action team that can be put together from a list of names of people in our communities. When disaster strikes, the team is then qualified to respond and handle whatever issues need to be addressed, from finding food, clothing and/or shelter to health needs.

Another part of the program is strengthening the relationship with local agencies.

Since the Red Cross usually finds out about fires and other disasters through emergency management agencies, volunteers will learn about the Red Cross' relationship with area fire and police departments. They'll also learn about the jobs volunteers are qualified to do in the Red Cross, including transportation management, fundraising and staffing.

"A lot of different skills can be used during a Red Cross response," Amy Danzl, Red Cross disaster preparedness and response director, told us. "Volunteers bring so many different talents and skills to us, (that's) part of the reason we can respond in such a large way."

And the peninsula has no shortage of talented and skilled folks. Many peninsula residents were on hand last summer when the Caribou Hills fire broke out, and the Red Cross set up centers to help those affected. Now we have the opportunity to put the two together and be even more effective.

The best part about having local volunteers is they know the community and its people, Danzl said. If there's a fire, volunteers will be able to respond to the scene right away and offer whatever is needed.

Although the Red Cross has no plans to reopen an office on the peninsula, volunteers will be able to offer a strong presence for the organization, a welcome sight when you're in need.

"It's much better for the client to have someone there on scene," Danzl told us. "Across the nation we have disaster action teams, local volunteers responding to local disasters. That's what we hope to get in the Kenai-Soldotna area, as well."

There's no requirement for becoming a volunteer. If you're interested in making that difference or have questions, call 907-646-5401 to register for this weekend's training, or send Danzl an e-mail at danzla@usa.redcross.org.

The community will be much better for it.

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