Central Coast Chapter Volunteer of the Year Megan Erk says love of community led her to the American Red Cross
By Marcia Antipa
“Showing kindness and getting help to people that need it without regard to anything else – that is how I was brought up.”
Megan Erk – the Volunteer of the Year for the Central Coast Chapter – credits her father for inspiring her dedication to the community. He was a military man who brought his daughter along on volunteer projects.
“I kind of grew up in that environment where people just volunteered in the community to help out.”
Now Megan is taking on multiple roles with the American Red Cross. From hurricanes to wildfires, from blood drives to blog articles, Central Coast Chapter CEO Michele Averill says Megan has more than earned her award.
Navy veteran Michael Ocaranza awoke to flames engulfing his apartment. He had just enough time to grab his dog, Sparky, and race out the door as fire licked around his head. Mike ultimately suffered 1st and 2nd degree burns on his forearms and shoulders. He was hospitalized in San Francisco for two weeks.
American Red Cross volunteers and case managers, Betsy Witthohn and Cindy Jones, first contacted Mike during his hospitalization and began to put together resources for his welfare following his stay. After two weeks of care, Mike’s brother Alonzo – also a veteran – transported Mike from the hospital back to Sonoma County.
“I picked Mike up, and we went directly over to the Red Cross office,” said Alonzo. “Betsy met us outside. She had a cash card to give to Mike, some emergency supplies and a little startup money. She was really, really nice from the beginning. Her communication skills blew me away. I had never experienced anyone who put so much effort… and as a volunteer… they were helping me, too.”
The author surveys damage from the Glass Fire during her two-week deployment. (Photo courtesy of Mariana Vimbela) _____
As is seemingly the case with every disaster deployment, there was plenty for me and other Red Crossers to learn while taking part in the organization’s humanitarian response to the Glass Fire in Northern California this past October. During this particular deployment, I was regularly reminded of the importance of making connections in the affected communities in order to maximize our relief and recovery efforts. Read more
Since mid-August, when many of the wildfires described below started in our region, we have been updating this post on a regular basis. Now that most of our efforts are focused on helping residents as part of the recovery phase of these Red Cross responses, we will only update this post if future circumstances warrant.
Please see the information below that summarizes all of the great work our volunteers, employees, and partners have done to support our communities. We are also so appreciative of the donors whose generosity makes our work possible.
Background: The lightning storms that swept through our Northern California Coastal Region in mid-August caused a number of large and destructive fires in our chapter areas, prompting quick responses by our region’s Red Cross teams. Other fires subsequently started in our region in September, including the Glass Fire in Napa and Sonoma Counties.
Working alongside our government and community partners, Red Cross teams — comprising responders from inside and outside our region — have provided shelter, food, and comfort to the many residents impacted by these wildfires. Read more
“The level of coordination and care was outstanding,” Esalen Institute’s Terry Gilbey said of the Red Cross response to the Dolan Fire. (Photo by Jens Wazel) _____
Founded in the 1960s in picturesque Big Sur, the Esalen Institute has a well-earned reputation for exploring human consciousness and developing human potential. The center attracts visitors from around the world whose interests in subjects such as personal growth, meditation, massage, yoga, and spirituality are explored less seriously by traditional universities and religions.
Terry Gilbey, the General Manager/CEO, has been with the institute since 2016. Just a year into his tenure, he helped the center stay afloat after landslides and a bridge failure made the facility inaccessible for many months. So the institute — and Terry — has had some practice with disasters. Read more
On a hot, windy Thursday in late August, the Corbin family of Morgan Hill got a cellphone alert: an evacuation warning, telling them to get ready to leave their home. Firefighters said the SCU Lightning Complex Fire threatened their community.
Bill Corbin realized the threat was serious.
“The wind was blowing southeast,” says Bill. “If it was to pick up, we would definitely be in danger.” Read more