"Three Questions” is an American Red Cross in Greater New York blog series featuring staff, volunteers, and partners who help carry out our humanitarian mission. Through these short interviews, we hope to shine a light on our different programs and get to know those who make this work possible.
This summer marks John Sakelos’ first year working as a part-time Disaster Responder with the American Red Cross in Greater NY. The emergencies he responds to range from fires to building collapses to building vacates. John has always admired the work of the Red Cross, mainly because of their support to residents after local disasters. Last year, John, who worked previously as a TV news producer, decided to take a break from the media industry because he wanted to devote his time to helping people instead of just reporting on it. John was born and raised in Queens, New York.
With the start of COVID, the Red Cross wanted to ensure that we, as well as our clients [residents served by the Red Cross] stay safe. Thus, we respond from our homes. It has been a surreal experience going through the coronavirus. You also have to be very well aware of your social distance while assisting the client as part of our new protocol. We would give out our referrals to them to register remotely. The virtual environment didn't take away us from achieving our mission because what we did was to adapt and then achieve our goals.
What has been your most memorable moment responding to disasters since COVID-19?
I remember one man. He walked from the hotel [provided by the Red Cross] to outside to receive his items — the relief supplies and financial assistance. While I was explaining what we were offering, he just broke down crying because he was so relieved that someone was there to help him. He was feeling very helpless because of the home fire and the pandemic. Those things really touch you. When explaining to clients what you can provide to help on the phone , including disaster mental health, they just break down and say, thank you so much. It was at that moment I realized I really love what I do. Interacting with a client going from being uncertain and nervous to relieved, you get to witness you are bringing people a sense of hope.
What is the one thing you feel the proudest of as a disaster responder?
Because of the pandemic, a lot of things are put into perspective after the crisis started. I am very grateful for what I have — my family, my dog who I love to death; and I am grateful for every little bit of them. I also developed a lot of empathy. Because I really got to see how much of an impact we’re making and how much we are needed by clients; I realized how important our role is and grew to love what we do even more.
I think the one thing I am most proud of is that our presence brings comfort to people as they know we are there to help. When I arrive on the scene, a lot of people already know that the Red Cross is here. This would bring a lot of relief to people. I think that's what made me very proud of being a Red Cross responder.