SIKESTON -- A Stoddard County man recently helped the Southeast Missouri Red Cross achieve its goal of recruiting and training 100 volunteers.
Darrell Vavak of Advance returned a week ago Sunday after a three-week deployment to the Gulf Coast region in response to devastation from tropical storm Fay and hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
Vavak was one of 10 Red Cross volunteers from the Southeast Missouri Chapter who donated over 200 days combined to deliver support and relief to residents in Florida, Louisiana and Texas.
After hearing about the need for Red Cross volunteers discussed on television, Vavak said he contacted SEMO Red Cross.
"I was in the National Guard for a long time and deployment is something I'm used to, and I like helping people," Vavak, 46, said about his decision to become a volunteer.
The Red Cross chapter's achievement marks a 66 percent increase in the Chapter's volunteer force from two years ago. Cheryl Klueppel, executive director of the Southeast Missouri Red Cross Chapter, called the increase phenomenal and attributed it to word-of-mouth advertisement
"Our goal is to increase our capacity so not only do we have volunteers that can be deployed at national disasters but we have those who can assist at local level," Klueppel said.
When the hurricanes hit, the American Red Cross put out an appeal to Southeast Missouri for volunteers to go through training and to deploy to the South, Klueppel recalled. Fourteen people responded to the appeal, she said.
As a result, Vavak and others underwent a two-day, 12-hour training where they learned how to shelter and feed people, provide mass care and how to conduct casework, Klueppel said, adding volunteers also receive ongoing training throughout the year. They have training in response to single-family fires and other local disasters, response to large-scale disasters, services provided to military service members and their families, health and safety, she said.
"But there's really no training like experiencing doing it," Vavak said.
During his deployment, Vavak volunteered at Red Cross shelters in the Texas cities of Anawak, Baytown and Galveston where he worked in mass care and sheltering.
But Vavak said his best time was spent during the evening children's reading group he formed.
"I started a reading program when I got there. I love to read to my own grandchildren so at 7 p.m. every night, all the kids came and we read. That was my favorite thing, helping them read."
Vavak said he was able to see progress before he left.
"Things are starting to get better and some places still don't have power. I've seen a lot of devastation," Vavak said.
The Red Cross can always use volunteers, Klueppel said. And not every volunteer has to be deployed, Klueppel said.
"We have a diverse group of volunteers. A lot of them are retired. Some of them are self-employed that they have the flexibility to volunteer, and some work part-time so they can adjust their schedules," Klueppel said.
Vavak called his volunteer experience rewarding.
"I've never met a stranger in my life, and I would love to do it again. Wherever there's a need and I've got the time, I'll go," Vavak said.
Vavak said he certainly encourages others who are able to volunteer for the organization.
"If anybody has the time and they like helping people, it's a great thing to do."
For more information about volunteering for the SEMO Red Cross Chapter, call (573) 335-9471 or visit www.semoredcross.org.