By Gordon Williams
Wiley and Melodie Witherspoon of Richland WA are volunteers in the Central and Southeast Washington Chapter of the Red Cross, headquartered in Kennewick WA – one of seven chapters that make up the Red Cross Northwest Region. It takes the Witherspoons quite a while to run down all the things they have done in the 10 years they have been Red Cross volunteers.
They have deployed to disaster scenes a number of times–to Hurricane Harvey in Houston TX, for instance, and to wildfires in Wenatchee WA. “We flew into Houston just as the streets were beginning to flood,” Wiley recalls. “We were stuck in the airport for three days and finally hitched a ride to the Red Cross command center in a dump truck.” Once on scene, Wiley served as a supply manager for the Red Cross response.
Both responded to the Wenatchee wildfires a few years back – Wiley serving as transportation manager for the Red Cross response and Melodie first as a shelter manager and later maintaining computers. In 2016, Melodie did a virtual deployment to Hurricane Matthew, which struck the U.S. East Coast. “I trained people on how to work in shelters before they actually showed up at the shelters,” Melodie says.
But that is just a start to all that the Witherspoons do as Red Cross volunteers.
Wiley serves as operations manager for his chapter. Asked what that involves, Wiley says, “I do just about anything that needs doing.” That can include everything from keeping Red Cross facilities in good repair to handling chapter public relations to managing special events for the chapter. One such special event is the Kennewick Duck Race – an annual fund-raising event. Another is the Turkey Trot – a foot race held each year on Thanksgiving Day.
He has helped the chapter create Red Cross displays for various events and set up Red Cross shelters to house victims of fires and floods.
Melodie is equally busy as a Red Cross volunteer. She played multiple roles at the Wenatchee wildfires and helped prepare the daily Red Cross information and planning report at Hurricane Harvey . The couple estimates that over the years they have opened up at least 10 Red Cross shelters at disaster scenes.
Melodie’s primary role at the chapter is as training coordinator – not only teaching classes in disaster response to Red Cross volunteers but also training and certifying the instructors who will then help train volunteer responders.
Red Cross chapters around the country run what are called Disaster Training Institutes. These are multi-day events meant to turn volunteers into trained disaster responders. Both Wiley and Melodie have taught many times at these institutes. And Melodie’s role at the Institutes runs even deeper. “I have helped set up the curriculum and recruited instructors,” she says. “I coordinated getting rosters to the instructors, getting registration and attendance set down in Red Cross records and acted as a resource for any classroom issues that came up, from setting up a computer to adjusting the room temperature.”
The couple first came to the Red Cross 10 years ago when both were still employed as reactor operators at the Hanford WA nuclear site. Wiley, who came to Hanford from the Navy, worked there for 35 years. Melodie, who went there straight out of college with a degree in chemistry worked at Hanford for 38 years.
They were just starting to think ahead to retirement back then and were considering where to volunteer once they did retire. Because they had been part of the emergency response operation at Hanford, the Red Cross was an obvious choice. “We went over and checked the Red Cross out and decided to give it a try,” Wiley says. By the time they did retire, five years ago, they were seasoned Red Cross veterans.
Both agree their work as Red Cross volunteers has been gratifying. Wiley talks about how satisfying it is to help people when they need help the most. “They have lost everything,”he says. “You feel very good when you are able to help them.”
Melodie enjoys working alongside people whose altruism and eagerness to help matches her own. “You make some really good friends in the Red Cross.” she says.