Why I Volunteer: Tanya Puente

Tanya

Humanitarian at Heart: 

At the age of 15 I went on my first humanitarian trip to Romania; followed by 5 more throughout high school and just after. I found that I had a true passion for humanitarian aid/disaster relief and wanted to  do more of it.

I joined the Red Cross in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit the East Coast; like many, I wanted to do something to help!

I quit my medical job and spent a month volunteering as a deployed disaster member to Mississippi, then to Florida when Hurricane Rita hit. During my deployment, I had the opportunity to volunteer in the many different roles the Red Cross had to offer, and with many other organizations such as the Army National Guard.

Between 2005 and 2017, life took over; I married, had kids, joined the military, and started working towards my nursing career a little at a time. Between family, military deployments and school, I lost touch with my love for giving back.

However, like many Veterans, I came home from deployments feeling lost and without a purpose. I struggled for a long time, trying to find something that would take the empty feeling away, and make me feel the sense of purpose I had when I was serving my country.

Returning to the Red Cross:

When Hurricane Harvey hit, I knew I wanted to help and decided to return to the Red Cross, requesting an immediate deployment to Texas. With the help of my Snohomish County Chapter Disaster Program Manager, I was able to deploy for 2 weeks before Nursing School started, returning the night before the first day of class.

At the moment, I am working toward joining a DAT team with my local chapter and volunteering for events whenever they fit into my schedule. As a single parent working two jobs, attending full time nursing school, and serving in the military, I have to fight hard to volunteer with the Red Cross as much as possible.

Deploying to Hurricane Harvey:

The day I arrived in Texas, a mega shelter was closing and the Red Cross was moving over 800 people to smaller locations. I was tasked with assisting with the movement of the people and their belongings.

After the move, an issue was discovered regarding the belongings of shelter residents being delivered to wrong locations. Despite our best efforts, boxes of belongings were separated from their owners and it caused a huge panic for the shelter residents who had already lost everything they owned in the disaster.

I requested to take the lead on resolving the issue. I felt responsible, since I played a major role in the shelter transfers. A team was created, we called ourselves the SSOL (pronounced “soul”) Team: Special Services, Operations, and Logistics – because we did everything from finding missing belongings to planning and executing shelter moves.

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Tanya (second from right) poses with members of her SSOL team in Houston, TX

In 2 weeks time our team executed two shelter moves of over 500 residents, and created a storage and tracking system for thousands of boxes of personal belongings that resulted in reuniting over 50 residents/families with their missing items.

The gratitude of the residents – the hugs and tears our team received as the residents were united with their medications/blanket/clothing/special family items – was worth all the 20 hour days we put in. Never have I worked with a more compassionate group of people, with hearts completely dedicated to bringing joy and healing to the people of Texas.

My experience as a Red Cross volunteer has been truly amazing. The lifelong friendships made, the opportunities to help others, and the family of volunteers I am now a part of have given this lost veteran a renewed purpose.

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