The American Red Cross celebrates 100 years in Colorado this year, and while it’s come a long way from volunteers rolling bandages for soldiers overseas, its mission remains the same: to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.
At the northern Colorado chapter, that means everything from providing shelter, food and clothing for victims of floods and other disasters to replacing a pair of glasses for somebody who lost them in a home fire. It means helping a soldier serving abroad get back home for the birth of a child or a family emergency. It means teaching water safety to kids. It even means teaching how to save the life of a family pet with CPR.
Between the tornadoes, floods and wildfires that have hit northern Colorado in recent years, “Larimer County has one of the highest numbers of federally declared disasters in the nation,” said Erin Mounsey, executive director of the Northern Colorado chapter. “So many of them were epic. What a blessing it is to be able to help our communities in this way. There’s a sense of pride in being able to help our neighbors.”
The chapter encompasses Larimer County to the state line north and east. More than 300 trained volunteers work in the chapter, which also includes two paid staffers – Mounsey and a disaster program manager.
The last few years have seen nearly nonstop action by volunteers who have responded to floods and wildfires by coordinating shelters, food, clothing, medical and mental health services and communications in the early stages and ongoing long-term recovery and cleanup work later on.
“We make sure we have basic services in place for the family that just needs a place to go that first night,” Mounsey said. “But we also work with other groups to help families with ongoing extraordinary needs.
For example, he said, “Some folks affected by the High Park fire (in June 2012) who had planned to rebuild hadn’t pounded their first nail when the September floods hit.”
And while those disasters get all the public attention, “we also are responding to a single-family fire somewhere in Colorado or Wyoming, more often than not, every single day.”
Mounsey himself was a beneficiary of such services in 1999 when he was a victim of a home fire.
“The Red Cross helped my family and me. I was severely burned in that fire. Years later, when I was able to, I began volunteering. Then I became a paid staff member.” He was named executive director in 2007.
Another part of the organization’s work is helping people in the community prepare for emergencies by taking basic steps such as having plan in place and a 72-hour pack that includes such simple things as bottled water.
The seemingly endless string of natural disasters that have hit Colorado have been “challenging,” Mounsey said. “We’ve learned that we can’t have too many dedicated volunteers in our communities all across Colorado and Wyoming who have the skills to be able to help. We can plan and train and exercise. But there’s nothing quite like the real thing. When the pressure is on, you learn a tremendous amount. We have an awesome team.”