This past week the Northwest experienced a severe barrage of weather systems back to back. Everyone seemed to be affected. Folks were re-routed on detours, got soaked, slipped on ice, or had to spend money to stay a little warmer. In Whatcom and Skagit Counties, there are hundreds to thousands of people currently in the process of recovering and cleaning-up after the floods. These people live in the rural areas throughout the county, with fewer people knowing about their devastation and having greater vulnerability to flood hazards.
Luckily, there are local agencies and non-profits who are ready at a moment’s call to help anyone in need. The primary organization that came to the aid of the flood victims was the American Red Cross.
The last week I began interning and volunteering with one of these non-profits, the Mt. Baker American Red Cross (ARC) Chapter. While I am still in the process of getting screened and officially trained, I received first-hand experience and saw how important this organization is to the community.
With the flood waters rising throughout the week, people were flooded out of their homes and rescued from the overflowing rivers and creeks. As the needs for help increased, hundreds of ARC volunteers were called to service. Throughout the floods there have been several shelters opened to accommodate the needs of these flood victims. On Saturday I was asked to help staff one of these shelters overnight in Ferndale.
While I talked with parents and children, I became more aware of the stark reality of how these people have to recover from having all their possessions covered in sewage and mud and damaged by flood waters. In the meantime, these flood victims have all their privacy exposed to others in a public shelter, while they work to find stability in the middle of all the traumas of the events. As I sat talking and playing with the children, another thought struck me. Children are young and resilient, but it must be very difficult when they connect with a volunteer and then lose that connection soon after. Sharing a shelter with the folks over the weekend showed a higher degree of reality and humanity to the situation than the news coverage ever could.
I posted this bit about my volunteer experience because it made me realize something about my education and degree track in disaster reduction and emergency planning. We look at ways to create a more sustainable community, and we need to remember that community service is an important part of creating this ideal. Underlying sustainable development is the triple bottom line (social, economy, and environment). Volunteers and non-profits are a major part of this social line of sustainability. Organizations like the American Red Cross only exist because of volunteers. So embrace President-elect Obama’s call for a culture of civil service this coming week and make a commitment to the organization of your choice with your actions or even your pocketbook. Know that sustainable development cannot exist with out social responsibility.