Thursday, November 19, 2020

"Three Questions" with Ignacio Mantilla

by Xavia Malcolm, American Red Cross in Greater NY

"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.

Manhattan resident Ignacio Mantilla began volunteering with the American Red Cross in April of this year after losing his job. He chose to dedicate his time with the Red Cross because its mission aligned with his goals to make a difference, and in his words, "bring light to people's lives." Last September, Ignacio deployed to the wildfires in Oregon to support relief efforts there, an experience that reminded him just how important the smallest act of kindness can be. After we spoke to him, Mantilla returned to Oregon for a second deployment where he is currently. 

What made you decide to deploy to the wildfires? 

I was looking for something to do, something productive, something that was meaningful for my life and the life of everybody else, all the people. I've been aware of the fires, and I know that they have been going on for a bit. And I think when I got presented the opportunity of deploying to Oregon, I thought it was a great idea. From my understanding, they [Red Cross] were in somewhat of an urgent need of volunteers here. I just thought that this was a great opportunity for me to jump in and bring my services to the community here. 

What was the scene like when you arrived in Oregon? 

It’s quite an experience to witness it, I think that we see images on TV that portray the destruction and we feel bad about it, but it's a completely different experience seeing it firsthand. And that just made me more empathetic with the experience that people have been going through here. Once I started talking with people there, I got a deeper connection with them. It’s very heartbreaking when they come in and they start telling you their story and you know what they lost. But it's so rewarding, though, when they step away, once we finished the process and register them. Their energy changes. They feel like they have some sort of hope and someone's there to help them. For me, that experience is worth taking the trip from New York all the way here and just making people feel a little bit more at ease.

Is there a story from your experience in Oregon that sticks with you and reminds you of the difference you were making?

I think every day I get reminded of the difference that we make. But there was this particular moment the very first few days that I got here. [At a relief center] my manager and I were talking about our work, and this lady walked up to our desk, and I introduced myself. And I asked her, “What can I do? How can we help you?” She was distressed. She was tired. And it seemed like she was holding on to the last real hope that she had. So we spoke with her, we took our time to calm her down. We gave her some water. And at that moment when she started telling us what she's been going through, there was that connection. By the time we got her into a hotel room, she was a completely different person and she was so thankful. I’m never going to forget that. She was going through a really hard time and being able to provide some sort of support was very meaningful to her. It definitely meant a lot to me that we managed to put a smile on her face. And I'm never gonna forget that experience. 

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