Friday, March 19, 2010

“It’s the little things you don’t think about that are crucial to moving forward."

Luis Avila knows all about responding to emergencies—for nine years he worked for the American Red Cross in Greater New York. Starting as a volunteer, he came to wear many hats at the Chapter: 9/11 responder, Assistant Director of Operations, Disaster Capital Initiative Project Manager and ultimately, Director of Mass Care. In 2006 Luis left the NY Red Cross to become Regional Emergency Services Officer at the Greater Miami & The Keys Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Then, on February 4, 2010, Luis learned firsthand how it feels to receive help from the Red Cross. That day his parents’ home in Corona, Queens was destroyed in a fire. They had lived in the house for 28 years, and Luis had lived there too. After receiving a call from his father, Luis booked a flight to New York. By the time he arrived that same evening, Red Cross responders from his old Chapter had provided Luis’ parents with temporary housing and emergency funds for food and clothing.

Luis got to see how a little help in those first traumatic moments after a disaster makes a big difference. “Their credit cards were burned. They had nothing," Luis said. "My mom—she needed comfort; she needed to get some makeup, a hairbrush, gloves and underwear. It’s the little things you don’t think about that are crucial to moving forward." He added, "My mom loved the sneakers they gave her. She’s still wearing them."

After experiencing this role reversal Luis says, “Being a client was an opportunity to really see how a little bit helps. There are things I can see now, some things I think we can do differently at the Miami Red Cross. They’re not going to be more expensive—some more toiletries—but it may benefit the clients a little more. We don’t give out shoes, but now, having seen my mom wear the sneakers she was given, I have a different perspective."

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