When I look back on Hurricane Katrina, so many memories come to mind. Being a Houston native, you immediately recall what it is like to be in a hurricane and its aftermath, and feel for the people affected. For me, Hurricane Katrina was the impetus for becoming an American Red Cross volunteer.
I wanted to do some volunteer work, but it was hard to find an organization that could handle a request of more than an occasional day or less than some time every week. So, I was pleased when the PRSA sent an email to its members looking for volunteers to help with media relations for the Red Cross at its Dallas shelters.
I knew I could do the work; I had been doing it for 15 years as a paid professional. It just seemed like the right opportunity for me, so I signed up for the training as soon as I returned from the US Open in New York City.
The training was held one Sunday morning in Fort Worth. When they learned I lived in Dallas, they shortened my training, gave me a t-shirt that said “Red Cross Volunteer” and sent me on my way to meet Anita Foster at a press conference and to begin my first volunteer shift. (Please note: this is NOT the standard Red Cross training for a Red Cross public affairs official. This was a special circumstance and targeted to people who already knew public relations and media relations. We went through official training when things calmed down.) Anita was the Dallas-area communications director for the Red Cross.
I guess I did OK, Anita asked me to sign up for another shift. This time, I was the sole spokesperson at the Red Cross shelter. Anita was taking her first day off in 21 days. It was terrifying but the media and the other Red Cross volunteers showed me the way. I realized I had a skill that others did not, and the public wanted someone like me to help explain what was happening inside the shelter.
The Red Cross also needed me to tell their story. It was the ideal volunteer opportunity for me. Now, I sign up for two shifts per month (and a few more during disasters) and I always describe my duties as whatever they tell me to do. I can spend my time writing press releases, organizing events, or working with the media at disaster.
I urge all my fellow PR professionals to consider volunteering with your favorite nonprofit. It not only validates the benefits of good public relations, but it also makes you feel good. The impact you could have on a person’s life – or a community — is immeasurable.
To learn more about volunteering for the American Red Cross, go to: http://www.redcross.org/support/volunteer