BUCKHANNON – When disaster strikes, the Red Cross is there.
But right now, the local chapter of the American Red Cross is the entity that could use some assistance, and its manager is asking residents to consider volunteering.
Alan Coberly is the regional workforce disaster engagement manager and the regional training leader for the American Red Cross.
His office is headquartered in the Upshur County E911 Communication Center on the hill behind WVU Medicine St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Coberly said he has worked with the American Red Cross for four years and has spent the last two-and-a-half years in his current position.
“I am responsible for bringing on new volunteers, supporting and making sure those volunteers are ready to deploy, deploying volunteers and making sure they have the proper training,” Coberly said. “Right now, we are entering our slow season. However, the last seasons have been very hectic.”
Coberly said the humanitarian organization recently tackled two major fires in California as well as Hurricane Florence.
“It’s been a challenge getting volunteers and getting them trained to serve,” Coberly said. “When I am sent out on an incident, I am in charge of staffing. I am the one who makes sure they get the people they need and that those people are taken care of, so they can continue to help the victims of the actual incident.”
Coberly said there are many opportunities for folks to volunteer.
“We are looking for anyone who is willing to help others out in time of a disaster,” he said. “We are also looking for blood donors. Right now, we are in a nationwide shortage of blood – anytime someone can give blood, that saves a life somewhere.”
He said the American Red Cross is responsible for completing a variety of tasks with which many residents may not be familiar.
“We do a Pillow Care Program for kids who are in grades three through five,” he said. “That got started during Katrina and is sponsored by Disney.”
The Pillow Care Program entails students receiving a pillow case which they get to color themselves. During the time, the child participants are being taught how to potentially survive or escape during a home fire. Coberly said they also talk about other disasters – winter storms and flooding, for example – that are relevant to the area, and students learn survival skills.
“We do that for schools, scouting groups, church groups, or church camps,” Coberly said. “We also do the smoke alarm campaigns – where we will install free smoke alarms in people’s homes regardless of income. We partner a lot with area fire departments and can install up to three alarms in each home.”
Coberly said last year, Dominion Energy partnered up with the Red Cross and provided a large work force to go around Clarksburg to help install the alarms.
“Our major response is to residential home fires – that makes up 80 percent of the responses we do nationwide,” Coberly said. “Families will get in touch with us, and we go out and take care of the people as close to the actual time of the fire as possible. We provide them with assistance to help get them through the first 48 hours, so they do not have to worry about where they are going to stay.
“We provide them with their basic needs, so they know they are still part of the community, and they don’t have to worry about basic needs,” he added. “Our health services team helps them replace medicines as well as provides referrals for eyeglasses and dentures and different things like that.”
Coberly said the American Red Cross also provides mental health team volunteers to help with issues during disasters such as fires.
Another helpful team provided by the American Red Cross is the Integrated Condolence Team.
“These members help out where there has been a death in a fire. Disaster Spiritual Care is just getting started in this area – it is a big thing down South,” Coberly said. “Our spiritual care team members are typically chaplains. They do not preach one religion to anybody – they are merely there to provide spiritual comfort.”
Coberly said in the community, there is a need for members of the Disaster Action Team.
“There is a big need for people to help out locally,” Coberly said. “Nothing is better than to have someone know you. There is a bond when you know that person, and they know you are going to take care of them.”
Coberly said the American Red Cross is always in need of logistics personnel and fork lift operators as well as Mass Care Team Members.
“They are probably the best-known team members because they do the sheltering, the feeding, the distribution of supplies and they are also the ones who do the reunification,” he said.
One type of volunteer that Coberly said is hard to find is those who work with residents on financial issues.
“Nobody wants to sit in the office dealing with numbers,” he explained. “They want to be out in the field providing direct care to the victims. But we could use retired accountants or bankers, anyone who is really good with numbers who can work in the office.
“No matter what your expertise is, we can find a job for you if you want to volunteer,” Coberly said.
Anyone who would like to help volunteer must first complete training.
“If you are going to be a Disaster Responder that deploys nationwide, there are two courses to take – Disaster Cycle Services Foundational Training which includes six courses giving an overview of what we do and a short class on diversity,” Coberly said. “Most of our training is online. We do still have instructor-led courses because there may be the need for hands-on experience.”
Residents wanting to volunteer should be age 18 or over, but Coberly said there are some duties designed for teens age 16 and up.
“We have a club at Buckhannon-Upshur High School which primarily concerns blood services,” Coberly said. “We have college groups at Penn State and Marshall University.”
Coberly said volunteers often receive more from volunteering than they give.
“Some people tell me they think volunteering with the American Red Cross is their calling from God; others are there to help others and enjoy that. Some folks say they were helped by us, and they are ready to give back to others. We have had a couple people who have been through a hurricane and didn’t receive help from the Red Cross but wanted to help because they saw what others have been through. Some people have donated blood and said they see the we do so much more, and they want to help others. It’s such a wild gamut.”
Anyone who would like to volunteer should contact the American Red Cross by calling 304-415-6944 or 304-472-4983, ext. 103, or going online at www.redcrossWV.org.
Coberly said everyone can help.
“Donate blood if you are able to,” he said. “If you feel you want to help your community, reach out to us. We will find something you will feel comfortable in.”