December 14, 2005

Fort Polk Red Cross: Helping families through service, opportunities

Editor's note: This was an article that I especially enjoyed working on because I love to volunteer but have found that "real life" often leaves me without the time. So in using my talents to help, I wrote a feature about the Red Cross program here at Fort Polk. I know over the last 4 months, the organization along with others has received some harsh criticism for their work following Hurricane's Katrina and Rita. But to condemn an organization for response in one crisis, especially in a natural distaster beyond anyone's realm of understanding without seeing the good that has been done for nearly a century is wrong as well. So if you do hold a grudge against them, I am sorry for your hardship, but please remember that for our military families, they are often the first on the scene, and helps get answers when everyone else stands in silence.

-- Published Article (12.2.05) --

In the last year, Americans have seen a plethora of disasters. Hurricanes, tsunami, earthquakes and floods ripped communities apart throughout the world, leaving families homeless and in despair.

There to help them recover were American Red Cross volunteers. Passing out food and water or just offering a shoulder to lean on, volunteers were instrumental in helping disaster victims overcome adversity.

“Volunteers are an important part of Red Cross,” said Bob Lowery, Fort Polk Red Cross station manager. He added that nationwide, 96 percent of the Red Cross is volunteers with 68 percent females. Fifty-two percent of the volunteers are over the age of 55.

The Fort Polk Red Cross program does not handle disaster relief but rather, emergency notifications for military families and lends a hand to the community with volunteers in many areas.

“The Fort Polk Red Cross has two missions,” said Lowery. “The first is the emergency message system and the second is the volunteer program which serves Fort Polk but also extends to the (local) community.”

Lowery said that when it comes to the emergency message program, it's vital the family has all of their Soldier's information such as correct unit and deployment address.

“It's important that they keep this (information) up-to-date,” he said, adding that often the spouse has the information but extended family members are the ones initiating the message.

Lowery said that the volunteer program is equally as important because it directly impacts the family's community.

“Our greatest need for volunteers is in support areas. We need talent such as computer, writing and speaking skills.”

Lowery said a common misconception is that people think they have to commit to a large number of volunteer hours, but in reality they can make their own schedule.

“It's the number of volunteers, not hours, that makes the Red Cross a success,” he said.

He said another misconception is that people think they have no talent, but volunteering can help them discover skills.

“We are in need of volunteers,” Lowery said. “We need to capture the excitement of volunteering (that came in the aftermath of the hurricanes).

“Volunteering offers life experiences that you may not get otherwise,” he said, adding that many Fort Polk volunteers discovered the benefits after taking the initiative and signing up.

Volunteer Dina Torsell said volunteering has helped her meet new people and gain job experiences, opportunities she might not have had otherwise.

“I had never volunteered (with the Red Cross) before coming here,” said Torsell.

“I knew the job market was not suitable, so to keep busy I began volunteering (at the Red Cross). Someone had told me about it, so I applied, went to orientation and now volunteer 20 hours a week.”

Torsell is the Red Cross volunteer hospital coordinator at Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, working three days a week assisting volunteers and volunteer organizations.

“I place people in volunteer positions such as administrative and clinical positions throughout the hospital, veterinary and dental clinics,” said Torsell.

“There is a major need for volunteers right now,” she added. “Volunteers help the community and offer spouses of military personnel and retirees the chance to provide assistance to the community. Volunteers also gain job experience.”

Orientation is held monthly. The next is January 10. There are positions throughout the community. Torsell sits down with potiential volunteers to talk to them about their interests and how much time they can commit to the Red Cross. Limited child care is also available to volunteers.

Shotoya Lewis is a Red Cross volunteer who works in the the BJACH Department of Pathology.

“Lewis has mastered the phlebotomy profession with 725 hours working (since arriving) March 1,” said Vernell Heard, Department of Pathology quality improvement technologist.

“She has been a tremendous help to the staff and (her assistance) helps provide faster customer service.”

As a phlebotomist, Lewis draws blood samples from patients.

“Lewis has received a thank you letter for customer service and the Hospital Commander's Award for a job well done,” said Heard.

Heard added that over the years, several Red Cross volunteers have given invaluable service to the department.

For more information on becoming a volunteer call 531-3260/3765 or stop by the office located at BJACH on the seventh floor. Office hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Fort Polk Guardian is now online, to see more stories visit

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