The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.
– The American Red Cross Mission Statement
The American Red Cross has an expansive volunteer network across the nation. Divided into chapters, the Southeastern Pennsylvania (SEPA) Chapter of the Red Cross is the largest and most diverse service organization in the country, according to www.redcross.org.
SEPA servers nearly 4-million people in Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties, and is headquartered in downtown Philadelphia.
According to the website, there are over 10,000 volunteers in the chapter, many arriving alongside first-responders to help provide food, shelter and other necessities during disaster situations.
For locally occurring disaster situations, the Red Cross deploys the closest Disaster Action Team (DAT), as was the case in setting up shelters in Pottstown during super-storm Sandy or providing assistance to a Skippack family after they lost their home in a deadly blaze, early on New Year’s Day.
“You just do it, because it’s expected of you,” Ben Gill, member of the WestMont Red Cross DAT team, said.
Gill, 71, has volunteered with the Red Cross since 2005, after heeding a call for volunteers during Hurricane Katrina. He is one of a diverse 28-member team, called the WestMont DAT, which derives Red Cross volunteers from and covers an area in western Montgomery County from West Pottsgrove down to Lower Providence and East Greenville/Pennsburg down to the Souderton area.
“Our team is made up of hard working, dedicated professionals who care about what happens to their neighbors and team mates,” Natalie Watterworth, a Harleysville resident and WestMont Red Cross DAT co-captain, said. “I call it my Red Cross Family.”
The Role of WestMont DAT
Each county of the SEPA coverage area has DAT volunteers. Larger counties, such as Bucks and Montgomery, have two DATs, with Montgomery County divided into west and east.
According to WestMont DAT co-captain, Terry O’Hara, DAT volunteers work closely with municipal first responders, such as firefighters, police and emergency services. O’Hara, a Skippack resident, said that DAT volunteers are often mobilized when first responders request Red Cross help through a “bridge” system, which utilizes communications through SEPA headquarters.
Once at the scene, DAT volunteers provide aid to clients, using the Red Cross’ vast connections with local organizations and other resources. O’Hara said that typically if clients become displaced from their home, the clients may receive clothing, food and shelter, either in a Red Cross shelter area or hotel, for a few days. DAT volunteers also provide mass care feedings and shelter set-ups.
Other DAT services include the facilitation of pet care, replacement of lost medical supplies or providing simple comfort to those that faced devastating chaos.
“Children that need help to calm down, may also have pre-existing conditions,” Sue Halfond, WestMont DAT and mental health volunteer, said. “Those things need to be dealt with because disasters make it more intense.”
Speaking at the Jan. 3 WestMont DAT meeting, Halfond, of Eagleville, said that in addition to providing for the immediate needs of clients, some volunteers also have certain professional experience and specialized Red Cross training. Halfond, a psychologist, may also be deployed as a mental health worker for the Red Cross.
According to O’Hara, once the initial DAT services are concluded, the Red Cross assigns clients to case workers in order to provide further service.
Volunteering for the Red Cross DAT
Being a Red Cross DAT volunteer requires extensive training and dedication.
According to the SEPA website, DAT members expected to be available during assigned duty weeks. Such volunteers must undergo an application process, as well as a background check, after which, volunteers are asked to complete several required and recommended Red Cross training classes, such as:
- Adult CPR and First Aid
- Client Casework
- Mass Care Overview
- Shelter Operations
- Disaster Assessment
- Mass Casualty Disasters
- Serving People with Disabilities
- Working with Total Diversity
Another requirement is the attendance of DAT meetings. WestMont DAT meets on the first Thursday of every month at the Limerick Township Building and the first Tuesday every month at the Lower Providence Township building. Both meeting times are at 6:30 p.m.
“We are very grateful to Limerick Township and Lower Providence Township for allowing us to meet there,” Watterworth said, explaining that the meeting locations are given free-of-charge by the townships, which further exemplifies the close working relationship the Red Cross has with its multi-municipal service area.
Watterworth said that meetings are also a way for volunteers to further get involved with their communities. On Jan. 6, the WestMont DAT volunteers distributed fire-prevention and safety literature through the neighborhood of the recent structure fire in Skippack [see media gallery above]. In December, the volunteers distributed manufactured-home fire-prevention literature to such communities in Lower Providence.
The Red Cross DAT Volunteer
Watterworth joined the Red Cross a decade ago when she organized a blood drive at her former place of work in response to the events of Sept. 11, 2001. She said that she has stayed with the organization for her strong desire to help clients and fellow volunteers.
According to Watterworth, the WestMont DAT team is diverse in both its members’ experiences and age ranges, which consist of individuals in their 20s to 80s.
She added that some members are retired, while others are working full-time with young families.
Her co-captain, O’Hara, agrees that such diversity is needed for the kind of volunteering their team engages in.
“With a cross-section of people, you have a strong team,” O’Hara said.
O’Hara, who also joined the Red Cross in response to the events of Sept. 11, is still clearly passionate about his volunteerism.
“We’re the first ones responding from the Red Cross,” O’Hara said. “My basic incentive is to be prepared for when there is a major catastrophe.”
“Help us, help you,” O’Hara later said. “Volunteer or donate.”
Both O’Hara and Watterworth state that the WestMont DAT or any area of the Red Cross would welcome more volunteers.
“I think volunteering and being a part of the community is very important, because it’s humanitarian and because of our faith,” Chris Advena, WestMont DAT volunteer and Trooper resident, said.
The WestMont DAT volunteers celebrated Advena’s 40th birthday at the Jan. 3 meeting. According to the team’s co-captains, it’s important to keep meetings uplifting and personal, as they must work as a team during highly stressful situations.
Advena, who became a DAT volunteer in September, said that he and his wife joined the Red Cross through the North Pointe Community Church in Limerick. While his family already volunteers with other large, charitable organizations, Advena said that he wanted to become more involved with his community.
“I think there is a lot of different personality types that come here,” Advena said. “When you volunteer, you get the bug, and you want to volunteer more, and it is rewarding.”