TODAY I SIGNED UP TO BE A DISASTER RELIEF VOLUNTEER. HERE’S HOW.

Every time there’s some sort of huge natural disaster I think … I want to just jump on a plane and go help.
 
And then I don’t. Partly because I’m scared, partly because I don’t want to do it alone, partly because I’m being complacent, and because well, it’s scary.  Those are the exact same reasons I don’t use public restrooms.
I started having these “jump on a plane” thoughts about 10 years ago. I can’t remember the disaster that prompted the first one but I remember just letting the thoughts fade until the natural disaster was removed from the news enough that I didn’t have to feel any more guilt about not going . I justified my inaction by theorizing I wouldn’t know what to do when I got to the disaster zone anyway. I’d probably just be in the way, I didn’t have any medical skills and how much help would handing out bottles of water be?
With the insane amount of natural disasters over the past month, I took my “thinking about it” one step further.  I Googled.  And then I Googled some more.  I ended up going down a Google vortex of “Volunteer Teams” for hurricane relief.  For one reason or another I didn’t really feel a connection to any of them.   
I spent a lot of time over the past few weeks online looking for teams going into natural disaster zones like Texas, Cuba, Mexico, Dominica and Puerto Rico.  Then I yet again, pushed the thoughts away.  Until my friend Trevor posted something on Instagram.
 
Trevor had family on the island of Dominica.  The entire island was demolished.  Gone.  All the buildings and infrastructure of the island were gone.  But the people were still there.  I worked with Trevor for a few years at the Chum City building when I was a television host.  He’s an editor.  He’s really nice.  I like Trevor.  I imagine I’d like his family too.  That one Instagram post pushed me back to Google for one more try.
And that’s when I found Team Rubicon.
This is the organization that spoke to me. An organization founded in 2010 by 2 marines who wanted to put their skills to use.  (I’m already sold.) But I read further.  Jake Wood and William McNulty were literally two guys who connected on Facebook and with minimal planning hopped on a plane to head to Haiti days after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the country.  From that trip (which included a few other people) a disaster relief organization was formed. 
 
I’ve signed up.
 
I am not a marine. I wasn’t in the military.
But I am a kick-ass civilian who can get shit done.  As it turns out, even though Team Rubicon is a military driven organization, it is also looking for a few good kick-ass civilians.  They started in American but in the past year a Canadian faction has started operating.  
All Hands Volunteers also seems like a really good choice.  What I like about them is you can apply as a group.  A group of friends, family or co-workers can apply.  That alone makes going off on one of these trips far less scary.  More doable.  Easy really.  Far easier than using a public restroom.  Plus they continue into these areas of devastation after a lot of places have left.  They help rebuild (literally) and even though I might not have medical skills I have Skill Saw skills.  So I’ve signed up with them as well.  Gotta keep my options open.
This post is for any of you who felt the same way I did. That you wanted to help but didn’t know where to start.  I am your Trevor.  Your motivation.  Your push from inaction to action.
Like I said, Team Rubicon and All Hands feel right for me, but there are other organizations that might feel more right for you.  Just Google “Volunteer Disaster Relief”.  Signing up right now with any of these organizations doesn’t mean you HAVE to go on a disaster relief trip.  It just means you’re taking care of the paperwork.  You’ve registered with them.  You’re being proactive.  So the next time a disaster hits you won’t wonder what to do.  You’ll be signed up and ready to be sent anywhere if you want to.
This isn’t a guarantee I’ll actually go anywhere or even help anyone but I’m one step closer.  
Doing “stuff” doesn’t always have to result in a baked pie, a painted living room, a homegrown vegetable or a craft.  It can end with giving someone the hope that they’ll be able to do that stuff again one day too.
Have a good weekend!

37 Comments

  1. wendy e lemont says:

    Good stuff, giving it some thought Karen,don’t have your skill set but maybe there is something this old broad can contribute.
    Way to go girl!

    • Erin says:

      I know some awesome “old broads” who use their kitchen skills to keep the work crews on their feet. Nothing keeps up morale like home cooking.

  2. Kirsten says:

    Great topic. Thanks for posting this. I think a lot of people feel the same, even possibly about public restrooms. I hope you become the “Trevor” for many.

  3. Flash says:

    Good online classes these days. Be prepared.

  4. Vicki Husted says:

    SCORE!!! Again. Karen. Thanks!

  5. Sara says:

    I am very happy and pleased for you. I too was scared of volunteering in various places, but unlike you I have not except on a very local and personal level. I am excited for you as you.

  6. Tina says:

    I’m impressed! I’m old, over weight and handicapped so I would be the one who just got in the way. But I do have money! Not a lot but a few bucks I can treat myself with at the end of the month. So that money goes to help. Maybe there’s someone else “doing” what I can’t but who can’t do what I can. We can all help, even those who only write checks!

  7. Kathleen says:

    You go Girl! Awesome stuff.
    Hope you enjoy your weekend too.

  8. Judi Wigren says:

    Good on you Karen, as I’ve heard the Aussies say. I’m signing up. Surely there’s some need for an old, odd artist. I do send $ but I’d love to do something I can see and feel.

  9. Brenda says:

    You are really someone who walks the talk – I hope you get to go. I have a friend whose ancestry is in Dominica. What devestation they’ve endured. I’m caretaking right now – nothing is more rewarding really. There are limits to how much giving is possible though and self-care is important to remember so it can be done. These are important times to step forward. WOW – YaYOU! Hi5!!!

    I also hope if you do go off that you continue writing and showing what you do.

  10. That was a beautiful post and a beautiful thing you have done. Thank you for this.
    I first felt as you with the tsunami that hit in 2004 around Christmas. That year I was devastated myself from a broken relationship and had that it might help me heal to help others but alas, felt as you. No skills, I’d be in the way, and so on.
    Again this past Christmas with another relationship failure and another disaster, this one on another level. I wanted to go stand with those and help stop the Dakota pipeline.
    Done.

  11. MaryJo says:

    You rock, Karen, in all ways and at all times!

  12. A few years ago, I joined the local State Emergency Service. if there’s anything like that in your local area, people, volunteer firefighters, whatever, join up if you’re able. I’m not with them anymore as other things took over, but I learned loads of useful skills. The sort of skills that have made me much more confident that I can do something useful if there was a disaster wherever I am, or an accident or someone needing help. They would also be hugely useful skills for anyone hoping to help overseas.

  13. Carolyn Schneider says:

    Thank you Karen! This is something I’ve wanted to do since the tsunami in Indonesia.

  14. Monica says:

    This is an amazing post. I too, feel like I want to help but haven’t because I’m worried about travel cost. Do you know if there are reduced rates for going with a rescue group?

    • Karen says:

      Some groups cover the costs. I believe Team Rubicon is one of them, but they first try to get volunteers within 500 miles (driving distance) of the disaster to help. With places further away they cover travel costs. A lot of their organization is based on fundraising to cover things like meals and flights so they can get volunteers in place. Other organizations do not cover any travel costs. ~ karen!

  15. Barb says:

    So glad you took that next step…the one that can be very scary. I’m in the category of people who helps with whatever donations I can make since I’m not able to go physically. But I figure it might allow someone to put that money to good use, so it’s all positive. Hope you find a good fit and can put your many talents to use in a new way! And your putting this out there might help encourage some others to do the same.

  16. Andrea says:

    I love this! Thanks for posting.

    I’ve often felt the same way. I’m signing up.

  17. Jenifer says:

    You ROCK! This is an EXCELLENT idea and post!! I absolutely love what you are doing with your blog. What a wonderful life 🙂

    I will be signing up. I have often thought about it as many have but today I will be DOING something about it.

    Thank you, Karen!

  18. Emily says:

    This disaster survivor thanks you Karen. I went through Katrina in 2005 and am forever grateful to all of the men and women who helped us. I still tear up and my stomach trembles just thinking about what a joy it was to see my city and our people lifted up through the efforts of regular, untrained folks who donated their time and kind hearts when we were on our knees. Never underestimate the power of simply handing out water, I’ve seen it save lives and give hope when all hope was lost.

  19. Sabina says:

    Wonderful! Thank you for all the “stuff” you do Karen, you’re multi-faceted inspirational…and just plain cool!

  20. Elaine says:

    My admiration for you, Karen, has just hit the ceiling!! You are absolutely incredible! I am the same as Tina (above) … older, lots of physical limitations (damn it) but I can (and do) donate from time to time. I was JUST like you when I was younger!!! I’d read about all the terrible disasters, get frustrated and upset and say to my husband: “don’t you wish you could go over and help them”. Our kids were teens so they would have been self sufficient while I was gone … but I just didn’t know how. I would read about local church groups helping but I didn’t belong to a church. Reading about all these disasters breaks my heart! Thank you for what you do, Karen, and your VERY big heart!

  21. Teresa Chandler says:

    I love you, Karen.

  22. Lynn says:

    Love you Karen.
    Volunteers are truly the backbone of not only disasters but in every day jobs. With out volunteers the world would be a very sad place indeed. Myself I have become a bit to handicaped to be physically volunteering sad to say.
    As a result I donate what I can , when I can 😔.

  23. Mary W says:

    Once again, you are awesome! You are a kick-ass, get-r-done gal. You are an instigator. You are an inspiration. I’m a small-bucks donator with a small bucks retirement, but my heart is with you. At the rate this old world is going, you will be called upon soon, too soon. Just let us know what you need or ‘they’ need! Not in a ‘let me know if you need anything’ way, but in a ‘let us know what is needed and we will do our best to help’ sort of way. I know without a shadow of doubt that you will.

  24. Rosiland Ball says:

    You are amazing!

  25. Jennie Lee says:

    We have a Puerto Rican restaurant in my town. The lady who runs it has family there. My friends organized an event (food! music!) that collected donations of things like flip flops and money and shipped it there. It was a great success.

  26. Martina says:

    And don’t forget that you can volunteer to help the animals as well. Here in Canada we have several organizations that do that. I belong to the Canadian Disaster Animal Response Team. We helped out with the B.C. wildfires and in fact I have a rescue from the wildfires living with me…of course that was a bonus!

  27. Linda says:

    My son built fresh water sources in Haiti after the earthquake and I have felt inadequate since. I intend to volunteer when I can in the future.

  28. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Proud of you as always girl!…If I could make any movement without pain…I would be by your side…I’ve had that jump on a plane and help feeling for a long time!

  29. Kelli says:

    Then get thee to Puerto Rico. Apparently 85% of the flooded areas are STILL FLOODED. 🙁

  30. Sharon Martin says:

    I have an idea for something that all of these devastated households have lost, and we could supply–SEWING BOXES.

    Thread, needles, scissors, miscellaneous buttons, thimble, and trust me, every household/sewer/granny in this country has extra.

    I could gather and ship boxes of supplies, to ???, and they could find tin boxes to put them in–and maybe leave them at post offices or ???? where people could pick one up.
    I could also supply tin boxes (Good Will, church shops) but the shipping costs would be too much. Anyone think this idea would work? or be the contact person in an area near the distribution area? Maybe a Church group?

  31. Nicole says:

    If you’re interested in helping and want some training beforehand, many communities have some type of CERT – Community Emergency Response Team. My partner and I took the course recently and feel much more prepared to actually help in the event of a disaster. I’m sure the skills we’ve learned could be used in places outside our community as well.

    Thank you for this post, Karen – there are so many people having a really difficult time right now.

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