Volunteer Connections Abound

By Kimmy Venter, American Red Cross

When devastating flooding struck South Carolina in early October, Red Cross volunteers from across the country sprang into action to help people in need. In total, more than 1,700 Red Cross workers have been mobilized to provide food and shelter, hand out relief supplies, offer emotional support, help with recovery planning, and support all of the vehicles, warehouses, technology and people that made this disaster response possible.
Hundreds of volunteers in South Carolina have spent weeks away from home to serve those affected by the floods. Despite being far from family and friends, the connections made between Red Crossers working to help others in need made for a special deployment experience for many.

Red Cross volunteers John Fouts of East Lansing, Michigan
and Herbert Wolfe of Rochester, New York exchange information
 at the Disaster Relief Operations headquarters in Columbia,
South Carolina after discovering the bond they share as
Vietnam veterans.
(Photo by Carl Manning/American Red Cross)
John Fouts and Herbert Wolfe have been volunteering with the Red Cross for years, but in Columbia, South Carolina, they discovered a connection that goes much farther back.
“I saw his hat,” said Fouts, of East Lansing, Michigan, describing a hat Wolfe was wearing with a Vietnam veteran’s patch on the front. “I went right up to him, I asked him where he’d served, and I said ‘welcome home’.”

When Wolfe, of Rochester, New York, replied, the two men quickly discovered a new bond between them – both were stationed at Lai Khe from 1968 to 1969, serving in the 1st Infantry Division during the Vietnam War.

“We’ve never met before this [Red Cross] deployment, but we’re buds,” said Fouts. “All of us who served in Vietnam – we’re a fraternity, a brotherhood.”

Their lives have taken very different paths since 1969, but in retirement, both men found ways to make a difference by volunteering with the Red Cross. 

“It’s another family,” Wolfe said. “It’s somewhere you can help people, so it seems to be a fit for me.”

Red Cross volunteer nurses Debi O’Neil of Lafayette, Indiana
and Bob Fitzgerald of Rouses Point, New York bring each other
up to speed on health services activities taking place at a
 multi-agency resource center in Gadsden, South Carolina.
(Photo by Kimmy Venter/American Red Cross)

Debi O’Neil and Bob Fitzgerald were first introduced upon their arrival in South Carolina. Both trained nurses, they were deployed to provide health services to people affected by the devastating floods.

“We just met 10 days ago, but we’re best friends now," said O’Neil, with a smile. “We’re BFF!”

Fitzgerald, from Rouses Point, New York, and O’Neil, from Lafayette, Indiana, spent nearly two weeks working together to provide medical care and comfort in flood-impacted communities across the state.

“We’re here for the same reasons, with the same skill sets,” Fitzgerald said, explaining how working together to take care of others created a bond between him, O’Neil, and other volunteer nurses on the job. “It’s easy to get along with someone with a good heart.”


Red Cross volunteers Shawn Scott-Fitzgerald of Haslett,
Michigan and Shamim Jiwa-Kassam of Lititz, Pennsylvania
share a laugh to start the day in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
(Photo by Kimmy Venter/American Red Cross)
Shawn Scott-Fitzgerald and Shamim Jiwa-Kassam started deploying as Red Cross volunteers in 2005 and 2006, respectively. The two first met in 2010, when they left their homes in Haslett, Michigan, and Lititz, Pennsylvania, respectively, to help people affected by flooding in Massachusetts. They’ve been close friends ever since, and in South Carolina, they are working on their tenth Red Cross response together. 

“We think alike,” Jiwa-Kassam said, explaining how the two work so well together in their roles handling staff services and logistics. “We’re support each other all the time,” added Scott-Fitzgerald. “And we laugh a lot, a lot,” they said together, laughing.

With years of experience and more than 80 Red Cross deployments between them, Scott-Fitzgerald and Jiwa-Kassam know a lot about the connections that form during a Red Cross response.

“I’ve made at least one really good friend on every job I’ve been on,” said Scott-Fitzgerald. “Those friendships continue…you see them on the next one, and you pick right up where you left off.”

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