Monday, January 18, 2021

“Three Questions” with Red Cross Volunteer Bill Chrystal

“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.

By Stuart Cubbon and Xavia Malcolm, American Red Cross in Greater New York

Staten Island resident Bill Chrystal joined the American Red Cross in Greater New York as a volunteer in Fall 2019 after retiring from a 35-year career in financial services. In addition to his role as a Red Cross Disaster Responder, Chrystal volunteers with an oyster reef restoration organization and serves on the executive committee of a community garden.

Why did you pursue this volunteer work the Red Cross?

Prior to the Red Cross, I was already involved with a couple volunteer organizations, but there was a certain level of abstraction to the work I was doing. I wasn’t working directly with the people that we helped. With the Red Cross, I was drawn to the immediacy of its mission. You deal directly with the people that you provide relief to, and you’re out in the field doing it.

During my entire career, I’ve always performed well during tense moments and pressure-filled situations. A long time ago, a co-worker told me that the crazier things get, the calmer I seem to become. Out in the field, sometimes that’s a good thing.

Do any of your experiences on scene of disasters stand out?

Recently I had two calls in the Bronx on a single day.

The first call was for a fire at a single-family home. It was windy, rainy, miserable day. When I showed up, there were multiple generations of the family sitting outside under a tarp. They were surrounded by possessions the fire department had thrown out into the yard. Thankfully, no one was injured, but it was a bad situation. You could see through the roof and most of the windows were gone. I helped them call the Red Cross emergency hotline, and we secured a prepaid card to buy food. The woman who owned the home seemed like a tough cookie the whole time, but when I handed her the card, she broke down crying. 

The next call was to another fire, this time at a small apartment building. When I arrived, the fire was out and the fire department had left, but the residents were still outside. Two men were arguing, so I stepped in and convinced them that there were more important things to focus on. They calmed down, then we got a lot of people hooked up with relief and hotel rooms. 

That was a good day.

How has volunteering with the Red Cross impacted your life?

It’s been positive in a lot of ways, and volunteering allows me to reconnect with my past. When I was growing up, my family was not well-off. Seeing people in bad circumstances kicks back memories from when my family needed assistance, and a lot of times there wasn’t anyone to help us out. So, when I go to certain places in the Bronx, Queens, and other outer-borough neighborhoods, I understand how even one bad thing happening to a family can be a tremendously big setback. It feels good to be out in the field, to offer some assistance, and hopefully help them move forward.

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