What’s it like to be a disaster team intern?

Greg Watts_2After graduating from high school, Gregory Watts chose to pursue a disaster services internship with the Red Cross of Eastern North Carolina. And in the fall, he became fully immersed in disaster relief operation work. The then 19-year-old deployed twice to Texas for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, and once to Puerto Rico to help assist victims of Hurricane Maria. When Gregory returned home, we spoke with him about his deployments. Here’s what we learned!

Q: First, why and how did you choose to work for the Red Cross in disaster relief?

A: I always enjoyed giving blood and platelets, so I called and inquired about an internship. I chose disaster relief because it sounded exciting. One deployment turned into three with the recent hurricane season!

Greg Watts_1

Gregory Watts speaks with a reporter before deploying to Puerto Rico.

Q: What were your assignments on deployments?

A: In Texas, I was delivering food and water to victims. In Puerto Rico, I was the warehouse distribution supervisor in charge of coordinating water, tarps, baby food, meals, toilet paper, etc. to be delivered appropriately.

Greg Watts_3

A shelter area in Texas. 

Q: What was most rewarding about deploying to help?

A: The best part was delivering supplies personally to people in Texas. It was incredible to be able to actually shake people’s hands and see their faces light up in the midst of everything going on. In both places [Texas and Puerto Rico] it was really great to see how in disaster all hidden agendas are stripped away for the good of the whole. The focus of the Red Cross is being there to help and it was amazing to be associated with such a worthy cause.

Greg Watts_4

Devastation in Texas following Hurricane Harvey.

Q: What was your greatest challenge?


A: Beside the overall stress of [being on a disaster relief operation], there were occasional conflicts between those who were deployed. Time and kindness resolved what was at first most difficult. Then we were faced with the other big challenges of power outages and insufficient resources at times. In Puerto Rico I learned so much about making quick decisions in order to be sure people got what they needed as quickly as possible. There’s not much time to think so you have to think fast and have a good plan. I learned it saved a lot of time to have my graphs, forms, and charts organized.

Q: Is there anything you wish you brought with you that you did not?

A: We were advised to bring five days worth of food and water which fortunately we didn’t need at the time. I really wish I had brought bug spray. The mosquitoes in Puerto Rico were bad! There was not enough bug spray.

Q: Any comic relief in the midst of disaster relief?

A: All I can say is as hard as we all tried to stay organized, there were days the truck would run out of gas then we would lose the keys – but it would be so ridiculous we would wind up laughing in the end. 

Greg Watts_5

Gregory Watts stands in front of what used to be a beach-side resort in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

Story by Phoebe Fulkerson/American Red Cross

Photos courtesy of Gregory Watts


Make the right play on Super Bowl Sunday

Make the right play on Super Bowl Sunday. Give blood to help save lives!

Wake Forest Presbyterian Church will host a blood drive on game day, Feb. 4, from noon to 6 p.m. To make an appointment, visit www.redcrossblood.org and enter sponsor code: WFPCWake Forest


UNC-Chapel Hill student balances school with Red Cross disaster volunteer work

Just as the first week of classes for the 2017-18 school year began at UNC-Chapel Hill, Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Gulf Coast, leaving tens of thousands of people displaced from their homes.


UNC-Chapel Hill history and political science major Lars Knapp, 22, didn’t waste time volunteering to help those affected by the largest flooding event in U.S. history. And this wasn’t his first hurricane response. Lars signed up to become a Red Cross volunteer after Hurricane Matthew struck Eastern North Carolina in October 2016. Lars said he felt the need to help those suffering from Hurricane Harvey because he understood the need for support following a major disaster.

So on Aug. 25, 2017, Lars and another Red Cross volunteer drove a Red Cross emergency response vehicle from the Durham Red Cross office to Texas. Severe weather forced the two drivers to make an initial stop at a shelter in Livingston, Texas. It was not a Red Cross shelter, but the management there welcomed the guidance of Lars and his colleague.

Lars immediately put himself to use. In the shelter, there were several Spanish speakers and Lars was the only one who could translate. He used his bi-lingual skills to help a diabetic lady get her insulin, and another to get basic necessities for her children.

After spending four days in Livingston, Lars and his colleague made the drive to their planned destination of Houston, Texas. There, Lars helped again in a shelter. He met one shelter resident who had a job interview the day after the hurricane made landfall. With the opportunity in front of him, the man was now faced with a lack of transportation or proper clothing. Determined to help, Lars set up an Uber ride for transportation, and helped the man find proper attire. The man landed the job.

In Houston, Lars said he had never seen sheltering on such a large scale. He also witnessed kindness, and said there were so many people who wanted to volunteer. He said on one Saturday in his location, the Red Cross processed 600 event-based volunteers who were able to start helping immediately.

“You never know when a natural disaster is going to strike your family. Be there for other people’s family so someone will be there for yours,” Lars said.

In a shelter, Lars said Red Crossers provide services such as mental and physical health screenings, spiritual care, food, hygiene items, and any other necessities to help families on the road to recovery. Before leaving a shelter, many are assigned a case manager.

Lars said balancing volunteer work and school isn’t easy, but he values both his education and the practical skills he gains volunteering. He said if he could get any job out of college it would be with the Red Cross.

If you, like Lars, enjoy meeting people and want to give back, check out www.redcross.org/volunteer.

Photo: Lars Knapp reads to children at a shelter in Texas.

Story by Nichole Nettleton/American Red Cross


Camp Lejeune hosts Red Cross Totes of Hope drive


Red Cross volunteers spent time in late November at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, leading a Totes of Hope drive to benefit veterans.

Totes of Hope is a personal care kit drive in which items for homeless veterans are collected, assembled in a backpack or tote bag, and distributed through veteran’s hospitals or veterans outreach programs. Kit items include socks, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, etc. The care kits also include a personal note of thanks to veterans.

During the drive at Camp Lejeune, current military members, retired veterans and their family members gave graciously to make the day very successful, donating enough items to assemble 100 totes for distribution!

At the event, one Marine shared with his young son, “This is what we do to help those who need our help. It’s our way of paying [it] forward to our fellow comrades who are our brothers and sisters.”

Interested in hosting a Totes of Hope drive? Contact your local Red Cross for more information.



Photos courtesy of Terry Gentry.

A special thank you to George Blalock and Catherine Bruggeman of Marine Corps Exchange for hosting and providing display of items for purchase.



Helping People Help People: Neil and Donna Dorsey

When Donna Dorsey joined a Baltimore Red Cross nursing committee in 1975, she had no idea she would still be volunteering 42 years later.Howells-0291EE

Because of her passion for public health, the American Red Cross fit her interests and career as a nurse/educator/regulator perfectly. Before long, Donna was chairing the board of the Baltimore Chapter of the Red Cross.

In the 1980s, Donna suggested her husband Neil Dorsey get involved with the organization. He started in the Disaster Action Team (DAT) program, chairing it in Howard County, Maryland. After 9/11, Neil began work in disaster training. Neil has been involved in Red Cross activities that range from office administration to working in government operations, from Maryland to now North Carolina. Currently, he works in external relations as a Community Volunteer Leader and Preparedness Educator, and in disaster relief in the Emergency Operations Center as the Red Cross Government Operations lead in Pitt County.

In 1992, Donna Dorsey deployed to her first disaster: Hurricane Andrew. She recalls, “I’d just come home from a meeting in Chicago to receive a phone call saying I was needed in Florida. I said, ‘yes,’ packed, and left the next day.”

On that disaster, Donna was assigned as the supervisor in health services in a service center with four other nurses in South Florida. She recalls how challenging it was to be in an unfamiliar city with no street signs. “The smartest thing I did was bring maps with me,” she shared. “There were no GPS or cell phones back then.” In order to provide needed resources, she grabbed phone books to find pharmacies and other suppliers. “One family who had not evacuated had a disabled child. It was very difficult to provide for the little girl.”  But Donna and her team succeeded in finding ways to help the family stay in their home. Donna said she finds it incredibly rewarding to be able to meet the needs of people in distress while juggling the challenges of working in a fragmented environment.

“Times have changed quite a bit,” she said. Now, Donna works to share ways for people to volunteer at the Red Cross outside of disaster deployment. She stressed the importance of volunteering in all areas of disaster response, including logistics, managing materials, working virtually with families who have lost their homes, volunteer management, and working with technology. She also encouraged volunteer work in all other lines of service including Service to the Armed Forces and Blood Services.

“There is more than just disaster,” she said. “My philosophy is to start with your background and skills. There is a great need for volunteers in more areas than I have mentioned. We need you!”

Today, both Neil and Donna stay busy working in with Red Cross and disaster relief.  Donna has earned a number of Red Cross awards, including the Harriman Award and the International Florence Nightingale Medal. She serves as Director of the Nursing Network for American Red Cross and the Regional Co-Lead for Disaster Health Services.

Neil states, “I stay with the Red Cross because I like the other volunteers, the staff and the great work we do. Volunteering is a way of life for me.”

Donna smiles of their continuing hard work and said, “It keeps you young!”

Interested in volunteering like Neil and Donna? Visit www.redcross.org/volunteer and apply!

To specifically apply for a Disaster Action Team position, visit www.redcross.org/volunteer, and choose “disaster services” as your area of interest when prompted.

Thanks to Neil and Donna Dorsey for many years of dedicated service.

Story by Phoebe Fulkerson/American Red Cross. Photo courtesy of Neil Dorsey.

Hope Through Flames

Red Cross volunteer uses personal experience when responding to disasters

On the morning of Nov. 2, 2014, Gracie Shardt just wanted to sleep in. But what started out as a restful morning recovering from long nursing shifts, turned into a disaster training course that isn’t offered.Gracie Schardt- picture

A smoky smell filled her home and caused her dog to bark frantically and wake her up. Schardt said she went to the wall behind the fireplace she and her fiancé had just used the night before. She felt heat radiating from behind the wall and heard a loud “whoosh.”

“I covered my face with a T-shirt, grabbed what I could and ran back outside to call 911. At the same time, I was screaming for my fiancé [who was nearby outside] in hopes that he could hear me.”

As the fire department extinguished the eight-foot flames that were engulfing Schardt’s house, she said a car pulled up. Two Red Cross volunteers got out, wrapped their arms around the couple, and provided the hope they needed after witnessing the loss of the home they’d worked so hard for.

The Red Cross volunteers supplied them with three nights in a dog-friendly hotel, and emergency financial assistance for food, clothing and toiletries.

“It was emotionally overwhelming that they were doing this for us. Neither of us knew that the Red Cross did this, but thank God they did,” Schardt said. “We truly do not know what we would have done if we did not have a place to go.”

Three years later, Schardt is now training to become a Red Cross volunteer so she can help families suffering from disasters. She hopes to share her story to give people a glimpse of hope.

Along with being a disaster responder, Schardt is hoping to become a volunteer for the pillowcase project, which teaches kids about emergency preparedness.

“I am so excited to help educate children in my community on how to be prepared for an emergency!” Schardt said.

Now that the colder months are here, more people will heat their homes using space heaters, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces to stay warm, just like Schardt did. The Red Cross urges everyone to follow proper heating safety guidelines and to also make sure smoke alarms have new batteries and that fire extinguishers are up-to-date.

Story by Rachel Jennings/American Red Cross

Smoke alarms installed to save lives in Wake County

Dozens of Red Cross volunteers gathered for a day of service in the Fairview area of Wake County on Nov. 4 to install smoke alarms in neighborhood homes.

Eagle Scout Troop 395 kicked off the morning by providing a safety briefing for volunteers to follow. Then, teams of four were set up consisting of a smoke alarm installer and assistant, documenter and educator.

Nov. 4

Area residents appreciated having new smoke alarms installed, batteries replaced in existing units and a home fire escape plan developed.  Many families who received alarms said it was helpful to identify their points of exit and align on a common meeting spot outside of the home in case of a fire.

By the end of the day, volunteers installed more than 110 smoke alarms in the community. American Red Cross bags with information on how to avoid fires, as well as a list of preparedness items, were also provided to the families visited.

A big thank you to the Fairview Fire Department for their support during the event, to UPS for bringing a group of volunteers, and to Subway for providing lunch.

For more information about smoke alarm installations or how to create a home fire escape plan, visit redcross.org/fire.

Pictured: Red Cross Volunteers Nick Thelen, Anthony Swigert, Roger Kennely and Alexis Weaver.

Story by Alexis Weaver/American Red Cross