By Gordon Williams
Photos by Gordon Williams
Most times, a gathering of Red Cross volunteers and staffers would mean a disaster somewhere, with people in urgent need of assistance. But when more than a dozen volunteers and staff members gathered at the Bremerton office of the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas Chapter on a sunny mid-July morning, they weren’t responding to a disaster at all.
In fact, the only assistance needed was to the building itself–home to the chapter’s main location for nearly 20 years. The building grounds were overgrown with weeds. Inside were boxes filled with new furniture for the training room that needed to be unpackaged and assembled.
‘We want the building to be a friendly, attractive place for both volunteers and visitors,” said Leigh Kamasz, the chapter’s executive director. “But we get so caught up in our mission of providing assistance to those in need that we sometimes forget to look around our own home.”
The answer was what came to be called the KOP Working Party–a full day devoted to doing all that needed be done to bring the chapter headquarters to where it needed to be. That meant cleaning up the grounds and getting the training room outfitted and operational.
The Working Party was organized and directed by Amanda Hakin, since April the chapter’s volunteer services specialist. She sent out e-mails to all the chapter’s volunteers. Seven showed up, even though it was a Monday–a working day–in the heart of vacation season. The work was divided into two shifts–morning and afternoon–with lunch served. One team tackled the grounds–pulling weeds and hauling trash. A second team unboxed the training room furniture and assembled it–10 tables and 20 chairs in all.
And the payoff for all that hard work? Well for one thing, the building is now much more inviting to volunteers and visitors. For another, the training room is a better-equipped facility to instruct volunteers in the skills they need to master to take part in a Red Cross response.
But that’s not all. Executive director Kamasz sees this kind of exercise benefiting the chapter in many more ways.
Giving the volunteers a hands-on role in improving chapter facilities obviously deepens the bond between volunteers and the Red Cross. Getting volunteers and staff together to work side-by-side helps builds the kind of teamwork that is essential when Red Cross teams deploy to a disaster scene.
The need to find ways to keep volunteers engaged is critical, Hakin explains, since most of their on-duty hours will be spent training or waiting for something to happen. The KOP chapter responds around a dozen times a month on average. Without finding other ways to involve and energize them, volunteers can and do drift away from the Red Cross.
“It’s hard to recruit and retain volunteers,” says Hakin. By bringing volunteers to the Bremerton office and putting them to work on necessary tasks, the KOP Working Party should serve as a practical and workable way for keeping volunteers involved between responses.
Volunteers who turned out for the KOP Working Party were Jim Dudley, Bill Evans, Princess Geisinger, Doug Lundgren, Dave Rasmussen, Mike Scott and Gordon Williams. Employees who turned out for the event were KOP executive director Leigh Kamasz, disaster program manager Steve Finley, volunteer services specialist Amanda Hakin and Anne Ricciardi–formerly the chapter’s volunteer services specialist and now regional disaster workforce engagement manager.