Benjamin volunteered and found a ‘home’

By Kathryn Hecht

bg_2Benjamin Greenberg looked for a way to give back for a long time. A resident of Santa Rosa since 1999, Ben grappled with frustrating circumstances and a host of medical issues that left him on disability with a light work schedule. However, when the fires hit in October 2017, the Coddington resident thought, “I should do something.”

So he just showed up.

Ben began his journey with the American Red Cross at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds’ shelters by handing out personal items to evacuees. It was an electrifying moment. Even though he merely handed out toiletry kits, he saw and heard the stories of people directly impacted by the fires, and some of those he knew. He viewed the devastation first-hand and marveled at how quickly the Red Cross arrived and coordinated care. At the time, he had no idea that the Red Cross worked all year round. Impressed and much moved by his experience, Ben decided to stick around and give the Red Cross a shot after the fires.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever received Red Cross services, but I’ve received a lot of services from a lot of people giving freely,” says Ben. Since childhood, Ben has dealt with Tourette’s, OCD, and various neurological disorders that pushed him into the throes of addiction and the brink of despair. After multiple suicide attempts, Benjamin found peace and hope in long-term recovery and began to turn his life around. He first volunteered for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and now he walks with them in their Out of the Darkness Santa Rosa Walk every year. Still, Ben wanted something more substantial to focus on during the year. Throughout his life of ups and downs, being of service became a critical part of living well, and Ben wanted to take that out into his community. “The Red Cross feels like a good group of people,” he surmises.

Ben became a big part of Sound the Alarm Save A Life campaign, an initiative by the Red Cross to save lives be installing free smoke alarms. He was also asked to join the volunteer team for the 2018 Heroes Breakfast, and his only complaint was the exceedingly early start time. Nevertheless, he’s since represented the Red Cross in the Petaluma Butter & Eggs parade, riding in the Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) due to his almost-complete training, a real dream come true.

Ben views his Red Cross experience as an opportunity to amass critical life skills that he might parlay into a job eventually.  During the fires, Ben also served on cleaning duty, and when he did so, he made friends with a couple of kids in the shelter. “They saw me there day after day and responded to that consistency,” he recollects. “I think that consistency matters – and I think I’d like to get into casework someday.”

In short, Ben felt like the Red Cross said, “bring you – the whole you – and we’ll put you to work helping others.” His time with the Red Cross has boosted his ego and self-esteem. He can see and feel the appreciation. People expressed gratitude in myriad ways during the fires, but Ben maintains that he has the most profound respect for the ones who lost everything and still volunteered.

The Red Cross became a home for Ben. Now, he is excited about the future. Ben showed up with an open heart and rolled up his sleeves, and the Red Cross showed up for him.