Tired 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.