Wednesday, October 3, 2012

New Community Resiliency Specialist Joins the Chapter

Hi, my name is Lydia, and I’ve been working here at the Louisville Area Chapter for just over a month now.

Before that, if you had asked me what actions need to be taken to be ready in case of a disaster, I would have shrugged my shoulders and struggled to think, “Ummm… I’m not sure. Buy lots of canned beans and tuna? And water maybe? Oh, and keep a flashlight handy. That’s about it, I think.”

That was before I was hired, along with seven other aspiring disaster safety enthusiasts, to serve with the Red Cross for a year as an AmeriCorps member. We came from all across the country; one of my fellow AmeriCorps members made the move from Wyoming. I had spent the past six years in Alabama.

For me, it was a homecoming. I was born and raised in Kentucky, and all of my family and many friends were here. I had spent four years as an undergraduate in Birmingham studying journalism, and after spending two years there working as a young professional, first in retail and later in healthcare administration, I decided I wanted to travel north, back to the land of horses, collegiate basketball and grandmother’s cherry pie.

Here the grass is really greener and our degree of “Southerner” somewhat less acute, if the Kentuckian in question chooses to ascribe to that label at all. Being from a small Central Kentucky town, I was curious about this city that we were all supposed to “keep weird.”

Besides, Birmingham may be called the “Magic City,” and that’s all well and good, but the place has its’ downfalls. To be specific, in the month before I left, I found one downfall in my shoe (not while I was wearing it, thank goodness), two on the ceiling over my bed, multiple downfalls in my tub and four in the sheets on my bed. Birmingham is crawling with cockroaches, literally.

On several occasions I would prematurely whisk a still-hot-and-gooey pan of brownies away from the stove top, cover it with aluminum foil and shove it into the refrigerator before one of the littler critters could even think about it. There was no safe place.

It’s really crazy, but they can be found even in the nicest of places down there, and they are resilient. The pest control spray never seemed to help. The four in my bed (each on a separate occasion) eventually drove me from it. I rode out my last week in Birmingham surfing my own couch.

My grandparents were excited, my parents were over the moon and I was ready for a mattress and a new adventure.

And adventure is what I got. Our crew of eight spent our first six days on the job in training. For those situations in which there is a house or apartment fire and the Red Cross gets a call to meet the clients’ immediate needs, we learned how a Disaster Action Team run should go. In the event that a disaster occurs, we learned how to check those affected into a Red Cross shelter as well as the guidelines on how to keep a shelter running smoothly.

And lastly, our presentation abilities were tested and then polished, as perhaps the majority of our time as Community Resiliency Specialists would be spent in going out into the community and teaching people how to be disaster-ready.

And now, whether I’m teaching the second and third graders in Jefferson County how to pack a pillowcase disaster kit with our Pillowcase Project, or presenting to those with functional and access needs on how they can advocate for themselves in a disaster situation with our new Maintaining your Independence program, the rewards of my service here are great.

I love seeing new faces each day.  Each time the hand of an eager seven-year-old shoots up to tell the story of that time the Red Cross helped his neighbors after they had a fire, or a senior adult asks me if she will be able to easily maneuver her wheelchair around a Red Cross shelter, I’m reminded that to serve as an ambassador between the organization itself and the community we serve is a position I take seriously and am honored to hold.
While I was in my new apartment a few weeks ago just beginning to unpack, I saw a cockroach scurry out from beneath my desk. Before I had my wits about me he was out of sight. I knew the little devil must have taken passage inside one of the drawers.

My involuntary scream gave me away, and then I hung my head. I had been hoping to put an end to this once and for all.

My roommate ran in. “What is it?”

I explained.

“Well, where is it?” she demanded.

I shrugged and pointed vaguely, indicating an area that included an entire wall.

She was not thrilled.