My name is Liam Sweeny and I’m a volunteer Disaster Cycle Services Deployment Officer for the American Red Cross Eastern New York Region. I work behind the scenes, supporting the volunteers who carry out the Red Cross mission in the field.
Really, I’m a disaster booking agent.
I call beautiful people up – sometimes early in the morning, sometimes at the tail end of a hard day of work – and I ask them, with eagerness and charm, if they’d like to take a two-week anti-vacation to help people affected by a disaster somewhere across the U.S. And to even my surprise, many of them say yes.
My job is multi-faceted. I make sure the conditions on the job won’t affect their health. Sometimes that means tough decisions for people who really want to serve. I make sure new volunteers, out for their first Red Cross Disaster Relief Operation, understand the process and don’t feel overwhelmed. I also make sure that volunteers have a small stipend to cover such things as meals, laundry, gas, etc. so they are free to focus on what they’ve been deployed to do. I do all of this in collaboration with a very dedicated, highly passionate Disaster Cycle Services team.
When you see someone in a red vest walking around a debris field, know that they are good-hearted and that they are there to help. But also know that they have been through a background check and completed hours of specialized training to prepare them to make a difference in the midst of utter chaos.
They may be working in a shelter. They may be assessing damage. They may be driving one of our Emergency Response Vehicles, handing out food or supplies. In every case, they’ve trained and prepared for the opportunity to put their life on hold so that they can grasp the hands of someone whose life has been turned upside down by disaster.
It’s hard to hear criticism of the work we do. It happens – and maybe sometimes it should. Humility is a powerful motivator. But this group of us is more than 90% volunteer. When people criticize the Red Cross, we feel that sting right along with the minority of those who get paid to do this work.
It’s impossible to separate us – the volunteers – from the organization as a whole. We are the Red Cross; the Red Cross is us. We are passionate about what we do. It is a family, and a life, and we would recruit the whole entire country to join us if we could. This is what we love. It’s why I call people on their lunch breaks, offering them two weeks in a staff shelter as the waves pile up and the winds bear down – and they say yes.
We’d love to grow this family, if you have the time. Whether it’s responding to a hurricane, or to a fire down the street, there’s someone, somewhere, who needs your help. Start your Red Cross journey at redcross.org/volunteer.