Author Archives: Arianne Aryanpur

Discovering an Unlikely Passion

Pamela Ingram 420x279

Pamela Ingram accepts her award from Debbie Yee, Senior Disaster Program Manager.

Like many empty nesters, Pamela Ingram, 58, was at a crossroads a few years ago when her son left home to attend college.

A former stay-at-home mom and mortgage underwriter, Pamela wanted to re-enter the workforce. So she joined a job skills training program and was assigned to a front desk position at the Red Cross in Fairfield, Calif.

“I really didn’t know much about the Red Cross when I started,” recalls Pamela, whose responsibilities included answering the phones and providing basic office support. “I just thought the Red Cross responded to national emergencies.”

But the more time Pamela spent volunteering, the more interested she became in local humanitarian work. “I would hear what the volunteers were doing and how they were helping people, and it really fascinated me,” says Pamela. Little by little, she decided to get more involved.

With encouragement from a co-worker, Pamela completed training to become a Red Cross caseworker and joined the Disaster Action Team (DAT). 

Her first deployment was to Guerneville, Calif. where she spent three days interviewing flood victims. “It was cold, it was rainy, and we didn’t have a building to work out of, but it was gratifying to be able to help people who had lost everything,” she says.

During the recent California wildfires, she provided administrative support and logistical assistance from the Fairfield office to volunteers deployed to the fires.

“It gave me such a different outlook on our volunteers,” she says. “They didn’t get paid, and they didn’t complain. It was just amazing to see how hard they worked.”

Participants in the job skills training program receive new assignments every six months, but Pamela has chosen to stay at the Red Cross. She loves her position and feels invigorated by the work. “I always wanted to directly help people, and I never knew how I could do it,” she says. “Now, I feel like I can.”

In April, Pamela was recognized for her commitment to the Red Cross by being named Solano County’s 2019 Volunteer of the Year. The award was presented at the Bay Area Chapter’s annual volunteer appreciation dinner in Vallejo.

“It was such an honor,” says Pamela, who attended the event with her 22-year-old son, a student at San Francisco State. “I can truly say that since becoming a Red Cross volunteer, I am more compassionate and empathetic – a better person.”

Arianne Aryanpur is a volunteer writer with the Northern California Coastal Region.


Motivated by the ‘Need to Serve’

Tamara Rushton 420x279Tired of the harsh Wisconsin winters, Tamara Rushton was seeking a new adventure when she decided to leave the Midwest in 2014 and start afresh in Northern California.

Not long after settling in Humboldt County, she found a part-time job in retail and quickly adapted to West Coast life. But Tamara has always been motivated by a need to serve the vulnerable – she was an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for 13 years – and soon after moving to McKinleyville, she felt that pull once again.

Driven by a deep desire to apply her former emergency response experience in a new capacity, Tamara decided to research local volunteering opportunities. Pretty soon, the Red Cross sprang to mind.

“I knew it was a very fine organization and I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” Tamara explains. “So I called up the local Red Cross office and asked if they needed volunteers. And they said, ‘Yes, we’d love to have you.’ ”

With her extensive EMT background, Tamara joined the Disaster Action Team (DAT), a group of on-call volunteers who provide emergency assistance or mass care on local disasters like house fires and larger regional and national disasters such as floods and tornadoes.

For Tamara and other DAT volunteers, being on call means they never know when, or where, their assistance will be needed—just that they’ll be called upon in an emergency at often a moment’s notice.

In 2017, Tamara got a call to deploy to Hurricane Harvey in Texas, one of the costliest tropical cyclones in human history. She and other volunteers drove Emergency Response Vehicles, or ERVs, packed with meals to hurricane victims in rural locations throughout Houston.

“People had no water, no power, no way to feed themselves or their families,” Tamara recalls. “In a lot of the areas we served, people didn’t speak English.”

Despite the language barrier, Tamara says she was moved by her ability to assist victims in their most vulnerable moments and for the gratitude they expressed. “It’s a human-to-human interaction – you didn’t need words,” she says.

In 2018, Tamara was deployed to Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas, where she led vehicle teams that provided large-scale assessment of flood-damaged homes. This past year, she served as a caseworker for a large fire in Humboldt County, interviewing victims to determine their immediate housing, food and personal care needs.

This spring, Tamara’s commitment to the Red Cross and its mission earned her the 2019 Gene Beck Memorial Volunteer of the Year Award. Tamara was recognized at a volunteer appreciation event, and later reflected on what volunteering has meant to her.

“I consider myself very lucky to be a part of an organization that helps so many people,” she said, adding: “If you are considering volunteering for the Red Cross, do it. The emotional and spiritual rewards you gain will be far beyond what you think.”

For information about how you can become a volunteer with the American Red Cross, please click here.

Arianne Aryanpur is a volunteer writer with the Northern California Coastal Region.

Free Smoke Alarms Provide Peace of Mind

Blog main logo_StackedAt age 70, Elizabeth K. isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Her schedule includes regular Zumba classes and volunteering at an equine therapy center for people with mental and physical challenges.

“I try to stay busy,” says the Contra Costa resident, whose partner Fred passed away from cancer a few years ago.

“When Fred was alive, he was able to reach things around the house that I couldn’t. After he died, the smoke alarms in our house started beeping and I couldn’t get to them,” explains Elizabeth, who is 5-feet-tall and afraid of falling from a ladder.

That’s why she was so relieved when a friend told her that the Red Cross installs smoke detectors and provides fire safety education to seniors for free.

“It was a huge relief since I had nobody to help me,” she says.

Fire safety education is particularly important for seniors, who can experience a decline in cognitive and physical abilities, affecting their ability to change smoke detectors and evacuate during an emergency. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, older adults are 2.7 times more likely to die in a home fire than the total population.

Elizabeth scheduled an appointment and in February, two volunteers visited her home, where they installed four smoke alarms in 15 minutes.

“It was very quick and the size of the smoke alarms was the same as the old ones, so I didn’t have to worry about [unsightly] paint on the ceiling,” she says.

The new state-mandated devices have extended life batteries, which means she won’t have to worry about replacing them for another 10 years. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends replacing smoke alarms 10 years from the date of manufacture, which can be found on the back of the alarm.

“It’s been a huge relief to me because the hardest part was when the batteries would go out and I couldn’t figure out which one was beeping, or how to replace it,” Elizabeth says.

The volunteers also provided her with information about creating a fire escape plan, which includes identifying multiple ways to exit your home and designating a meeting point with others where first responders can find you. “I hadn’t really thought about it but it makes sense,” she says.

Elizabeth was so pleased with the program, she’s already shared the information with a senior friend.

“The peace of mind alone is worth it,” she says.

About the author: Arianne Aryanpur is a Red Cross volunteer writer with our California Northwest Chapter.