The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.
Mary Simmons has only been a volunteer since February of this year, but she has quickly become a steady presence and a critical participant in the humanitarian work of the American Red Cross of the Mid-South. In recognition of her hard work and dedicated service she is the Mid-South Red Cross Volunteer of the Month for December 2014.
“Oh my, what would we do without Mary Simmons?” said Jeana Bailley, Mid-South Disaster Program Manager. “During the month of August she stepped up to help while Rosemary Cook, our full-time Recovery Specialist, was on vacation. She worked almost daily in the office and many 24-hour shifts as a member of a Disaster Action Team (DAT). Mary very quickly became a DAT Captain and then a Casework Supervisor, qualified to review and monitor casework of other volunteers. This might not sound like much, but it is a really big job. Every case must have a detailed casework review within 48 hours and be monitored for follow-up needs before it can be forwarded for a final review and closure.”
“I love making fire calls and helping people. The assistance we provide to people whose homes have been destroyed is a gift from the American people. I never get tired of saying this. Most of the time this involves them thanking us and giving us wonderful hugs,” said Simmons.
Simmons recent new responsibility as Disaster Action Team Supervisor often means that she is the senior person responding to fire calls. In doing follow-up casework, she often takes extra care to find assistance for clients in need.
“Every person she encounters is treated with respect, consideration, and efficient service…. When Mary is on call there are no worries — she can and will manage everything that comes her way,” concluded Jeana Bailley.
During the past year Simmons also deployed within the Tennessee Volunteer Region to help with the relief effort for the tornadoes that tore through Lincoln County and to help with relief from the West Tennessee Floods that damaged homes in the Mid-South. While deployed, Simmons participated in damage assessment, client casework, and mass care operations.
Simmons came to the Red Cross as a Volunteer after the loss of her parents, which she took very hard. “The best way to get better is to help other people,” said Simmons, upon reflecting on why she became a Red Cross Volunteer
In addition to her work on disaster relief, Simmons helps with the Service to the Armed Forces activity of the Mid-South chapter by processing data on recruits from the Mid-South area who are just entering the armed forces. All of this work sometimes keeps her busy as a Red Cross volunteer for 30 or more hours per week.
Prior to becoming a volunteer with the Red Cross, Simmons volunteered with the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. In this role she ran a shelter for approximately 200 workers who were helping with the rebuilding work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She also has experience doing disaster assistance work for FEMA. Those experiences and stories told by a friend of the Red Cross coming to her aid after a home fire “gave me a sense of what I needed to do,” said Simmons.
“I have vivid memories during my high school days of a Red Cross commercial. There was a disaster in the background and a Red Cross lady in the foreground with a flashlight, beckoning to people,” recalled Simmons.
When not working with the Red Cross, Simmons and her husband are active members of the Memphis Kings Scooter Club. They love to go on weekend rides and one can often tell that Simmons is working at the Mid-South Chapter by the presence of her scooter, which she named Petra, stashed away in an office adjacent to the chapter lobby. Last year her club visited New Orleans on their scooters, where Simmons, dressed as a nun, made quite a splash as she toured the French Quarter on her two-wheeled mode of transport.
Simmons grew up in Memphis and is a proud graduate of Central High School, Class of 1982. She attended Southwest Community College for two years where she majored in English, but “romance and children came along instead of a degree,” noted Simmons.
Simmons is married to her best friend from high school. “He would often walk me home, but we were just friends,” she recalls. Both Simmons’ and her high school best friend’s first marriage ended in divorce around the same time, and they reconnected through the efforts of her now mother-in-law. “I just happened to run into my now husband’s mother and after she found out I was divorced she asked for my phone number and set us up,” said Simmons.
Today, Simmons lives in Millington, Tennessee, where she relishes the chickens she keeps in her backyard. She and her husband have six children, all of which were home schooled. Her oldest daughter is now in South Korea, where she teaches English as a second language. To say that she has had and continues to have an extremely busy and productive life is clearly an understatement.
Story and photo credits: Robert W. Wallace/American Red Cross