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'These Families Do Need You': 19-Year-Old Red Cross Volunteer Reflects On Disasters

Dec 22, 2017
Originally published on December 22, 2017 2:35 pm

Andrew Enos works for the American Red Cross collecting blood donations. But the 19-year-old from Brockton, Massachusetts, is also a volunteer who gets nothing but a prepaid expense card to travel to disaster zones for the relief organization.

This fall he traveled to Texas and Florida to help hurricane survivors, and then he went on to Northern California, where he assisted victims of the October wildfires.

Enos tells Here & Now’s Robin Young that when he arrived in Florida after Irma, his deployment supervisor at the Red Cross called to say he had been promoted to supervisor.

“She said, ‘Andrew, unfortunately we have to move you up to supervisor. Congratulations,’ ” Enos says. “I’m like, ‘Uh, that is unfortunate because I don’t know what I’m doing.’ We got to the Miami office, and they handed me a shelter manager kit. And now I’m shaking because I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Enos ended up opening a shelter at North Miami Senior High School, where he and three other staff members took care of 950 people.

Interview Highlights

On how he got involved with the Red Cross

“Honestly, I just wanted to give back to the community. The Red Cross gave me, still gives me, a lot of opportunities to travel, to see the world, to see the country. But not just that, it’s to give back to these people that are in need.”

On the stress of traveling to several disasters

“I actually ended up breaking down a little bit in Florida. At that point, I think I was a little homesick because being home less than 24 hours from Texas to go right to Florida, but then went right back and started working again.

“That was the demand of people coming into the shelter. I had two colleges at the shelter, and I couldn’t fit everybody into that gym, so we ended up opening up a couple hallways and another building to fit them in there. I was extremely overwhelmed. I was working 22-hour shifts, sleeping in the hallway on a cot.”

On the wildfires in Northern California

“I did a lot of traveling with that deployment, back and forth from Sacramento to Santa Rosa. When we got out to Sacramento, where I landed, they deployed us to Yuba City and that’s where I ran as a casework supervisor. So I deployed twice as a caseworker and twice as a shelter worker. Caseworkers are dealing with the clients face to face — not always face to face, we can deploy virtually or just on the phone — but I like doing that face to face because you get to see what the client’s going through.

“I went out and did outreach, so we were going to the homes and seeing the damage, talking to the clients right there. There was a gentleman out there. He was with probably nine people digging through the ashes, and as we were talking to him, his wife came over and said they found his wedding ring. So that was really touching. We later found out he was a Yuba City police officer. So that was really nice to help him and his family and his daughter.”

On how he looks back on this disaster-filled year

“When I got home, it was a little weird being home because I had a routine out there. To go one minute from talking to a client every hour, on the hour, to nothing, to being back home collecting blood again, that’s a lot different. I enjoy being out there, helping these families that are in need, and if that was a job that could pay the bills, I would be out there doing it every day, but unfortunately, I got to work back here at home, and when I can, I go out there to help.”

On what working with the Red Cross has meant to him

“It’s opened my eyes to a lot of things. To see what these families go through every single day after the hurricanes or wildfires. To know we have everything back home, and to know that they just lost everything, that you could lose everything in a snap of a finger.

“I had a lady in my shelter in Texas. She was there with her sister, and she was an older lady. And we sat down one night. … And it’s 11:30 at night. My shift got over at like 11. … We ended up talking for an extra hour and a half. And she was telling me, ‘Not in a million years did I think this would ever happen to me.’ And she’s probably in her 80s, and she’s helping her sister that was disabled. And I didn’t know what to say to her at that point.

“There was a little girl in that shelter also … she was a 3-year-old little girl. She used to run around the shelter, kicking the ball back and forth with me. On my last day at that shelter, she gave me a colored picture that her and her mom had colored for me, and it was Superman. And every redeployment I’ve taken it with me on. I carry it with me on every deployment because it just shows that these families do need you. And they do appreciate everything you do, and I do keep in touch with that family.”

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