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.
Living just across the street from the Mid-South Red Cross offices, Willetta Harris often receives calls to come over and assist on rather short notice. She does so cheerfully. Harris’ smiling face can often be found at the reception desk. She also makes calls to potential volunteers to encourage them to complete the application process, helps with computer-data input, and sometimes goes out on fire calls as a member of a Disaster Action Team (DAT).
Harris recalls a recent DAT call to Olive Branch, Mississippi. An electrical fire had destroyed a woman’s home, and she was understandably distraught as all of her possessions had been lost in the fire. The Red Cross provided for the immediate needs of her and her three children, including funds for replacement food and clothing, snacks, water, comfort kits, and blankets. But the items that made the biggest impact were two large teddy bears. They were supposedly for her children, but Harris noted that the client’s face lit up when she saw the bears. “I think she really needed a bear to hug herself,” said Harris. “I’ve noticed this before” continued Harris. “When I first saw the bears I thought, what is this? But now I understand. They really do help when a person has lost everything.”
Harris noted the difficulty in making night-time DAT calls to some of the less-safe neighborhoods of Memphis, but she continues to sign up for duty, averaging two days a week of DAT service.
Harris also played an important role in the recent Channel 5 mini-telethon to raise money in support of the Red Cross recovery efforts for tornado ravaged Moore, Oklahoma. In addition to answering telephone calls, she did an on-air interview with Channel 5 News Anchor Joe Birch that donors said prompted them to call and and make a contribution.
Harris has been a Red Cross volunteer since January of 2013. She was exposed to the work of the Red Cross while volunteering with the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church to help with the recovery from the 2010 floods. Prior to that, she worked as a volunteer for a number of other nonprofit agencies in Memphis.
“The Red Cross is like a beautiful red cherry on the top of these organizations, because it helps so many people,” said Harris when asked why she came to work with the Red Cross.
Harris is from Memphis and received a degree in elementary education from the University of Memphis. She has worked as a long-term substitute teacher in many of the Memphis City Schools, where she specialized in kindergarten through grade 3 and special education. “Teaching was good experience for working with the Red Cross,” said Harris. “It taught me how to relate to all types of different people.”
Updated July 4, 2013
Story and Photo Credit: Robert W. Wallace/American Red Cross