The Saskatchewan Red Cross is embarking on an initiative to almost double their volunteer base across Saskatchewan by 2020.
A trio of representatives from the Saskatchewan Red Cross toured into the Southwest in mid January in order to increase awareness of the important role they play in community disaster response and personal preparedness. They visited Nekaneet First Nation, Maple Creek and Swift Current on January 17 and 18 in order to recruit additional area community members to their organization.
“When we had the 2015 fires in the north, we had enough volunteers, but not enough Saskatchewan volunteers. So we realized that in order to respond in our own community to something like that, or even something that’s even bigger, like a Fort McMurray, we needed to double our volunteer base throughout the whole province,” explained Cindy Fuchs, Saskatchewan Vice President of the Canadian Red Cross.
“That’s been one of the missions or one of the goals of this tour. So those volunteers would help in their own community.”
The Red Cross provides services in disaster management, delivers the Respect Education program, and is heavily involved in both First Aid training and education, along with water safety courses.
In Swift Current there are currently six trained Red Cross volunteers, and an additional six have expressed an interest in volunteering.
“We have about just under 500 current volunteers trained in the province. By 2020 our goal is to get to 800,” Fuchs noted.
“Some of the services that we would deliver through our volunteers is help to house fires. We do shelter, food and clothing for families through our volunteer base. Plus the larger disasters, like the Maple Creek flood a number of years ago.”
She pointed to the grass fires in Burstall and Tompkins, along with regional flooding in 2011, 2012, and 2014 as areas the Red Cross has been directly involved with in the Southwest. They also do emergency preparedness which is often in place to help communities deal with these unexpected events.
“We help communities be prepared through our volunteers, but also we are prepared as the Canadian Red Cross to help communities.”
Jan Radwanski, Coordinator, Emergency Management, Regina & Southwest Saskatchewan, also toured the region during the recent visit. He noted he was a volunteer for 14 years before transitioning into the outreach coordinator job over the past two years.
Radwanski said the Red Cross provides important disaster preparedness awareness for both communities and individuals. People and communities need to be prepared for natural disasters and a variety of other situations.
“That’s part of our eduction is to get people to realize that for whatever the reason may be, if they have to leave in a hurry, it’s best to be prepared rather than be scrambling.”
“That’s why the Red Cross can play that role in our communities by when we recruit volunteers, whether it’s for a small fire, a household fire, or an apartment fire, but also we can participate in community readiness and just let communities know that the Red Cross does provide programs and services and other expertise.”
Last year he attended Heritage Days in Maple Creek and Frontier Days in Swift Current where the Red Cross had a display booth which helped with recruitment.
He noted a Red Cross volunteer could be involved in personal disaster response, house fires and larger scale events, so volunteers must be 18 and over if they are having contact with children and families.
“That’s a real target for us when we’re looking for people who can give out assistance on behalf of the Red Cross and work in our different shelters and receptions centres.”
Additionally, there are volunteer duties which are open for younger volunteers.
“We like to engage youth because they are hopefully volunteers that we can have for a life long experience.”
“There are opportunities for all ages, but we are looking for people that can act on behalf of the Red Cross, they get trained up and can carry out those standards that we have in terms of personal assistance to people.”
He noted there has been a recent trend of couples volunteering together. And even if one is interested in logistics and another in safety and well being or personal services, they can often get deployed together, or work locally together.
They are also seeing a growing number of retired individuals wanting to keep busy and give back to their communities.
“They are looking to organizations like the Red Cross for opportunities. That’s where we want to engage them and to keep them busy with training and other opportunities where they can promote things like Pink Day and our first aid and water safety programs.”
Fuchs added that the Red Cross has become busier over the past number of years.
“There’s more and more natural disasters in the country, in the world actually,” she explained. “But the Red Cross is being called upon because of our expertise in managing during crisis for other such crisis, like social emergencies. Like we were asked to play a small role in the Humboldt bus crash in terms of our volunteers are trained in comforting people. So we actually handed out blankets and teddy bears at vigils and some funerals where we were asked…and our volunteers that are trained actually helped people maybe if they needed extra support that day to find a crisis worker, or sometimes they just needed a shoulder to lean on.”
She added that they also help communities in social type emergencies, often surrounding suicide, particularly in northern communities. The response helps provide a calming presence, and they have a good group of trained volunteers in helping people compartmentalize what their next steps are, and healing communities that are in crisis.
“We are currently working in a few indigenous communities, in the north particularly, that have had a number of youth suicides, and they’ve asked us to work with their community.”
Individuals interested in volunteering can learn more online at https://www.redcross.ca/in-your-community/saskatchewan, or contact Radwanski by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.