By Wendy Swift, American Red Cross
In Fall 2017, when disaster hit Puerto Rico in the form of Hurricane Maria, Diana Torres-Calderon knew she had to do something to help. She had grown up spending summers with her grandparents on the island and still had family members living there. The tragic images of the island’s devastation felt very personal. After seeing a television ad asking for volunteers, Diana went to the American Red Cross website and began the volunteer application process.
It has been five years since Hurricane Maria. In that time, Diana has been a dedicated volunteer who brings her skills as a social worker and educator to help others in their time of greatest need.
Diana works closely with those who have been affected by disasters. Not only does she focus on identifying and securing resources to help individuals, but as importantly, she works to encourage those affected to become their own best advocates. She is an empathetic listener who guides people through the steps necessary to secure their immediate needs of housing, food and living essentials. And, because Diana speaks Spanish, she is particularly capable of bringing comfort to those for whom English is not their first language. During a crisis, individuals are struggling to communicate their needs and having a Red Cross volunteer who speaks their native language facilitates communication and eases their fears. Diana shared a story that stands out in her volunteer journey.
On April 22, 2022, a fire broke out in an abandoned building in Ansonia, Connecticut. Although no one was in that building, the apartment building adjacent to the fire was impacted by smoke and fumes from burning asbestos. The tenants were not able to return to their apartments until the air quality was considered safe by the Department of Health. Diana received an email notification about this fire and within 24 hours was in contact with local agencies and identified resources to assist those affected.
One young family who were particularly impacted by the Ansonia fire included a one-month-old infant. The father is a park ranger, working seasonally and the mother was home on maternity leave. The father was deeply concerned about returning to his apartment with an infant after fumes had penetrated their home. With Red Cross resources, Diana arranged for the family to stay in a hotel and put the family in touch with a local agency so they could obtain the items needed for their infant’s care, including diapers. This family understood the importance of advocating for themselves. They followed Diana’s advice and were able to obtain additional funds through long-term recovery organizations that helped them extend their hotel stay for two weeks until their apartment was deemed safe for return.
Diana knows she could not be the effective volunteer she is without the support of a team of volunteers and community agencies. She credits another Red Cross Disaster Relief volunteer with mentoring her, “she is my lifeline.” At the start of Diana’s service she traveled to the Farmington, Connecticut headquarters once a week to witness first-hand how casework is handled. Diana learned that in some cases, volunteers need to provide a little extra support as some individuals might struggle more than others with their ability to access resources. Diana is there to provide that support.
Diana also credits her father’s experience while a soldier in the Korean War with introducing her to the invaluable resources the American Red Cross offers. While stationed overseas, his mother passed away and the Red Cross paid his airfare so he could be home for her funeral. Diana’s commitment to the Red Cross is a way to honor her father’s gratitude and to carry on the family tradition of making a difference in the lives of others.
Thank you, Diana, for all you do on behalf of the American Red Cross. Volunteers are always needed to help following a disaster, both here in Connecticut and across the country. Visit www.redcross.org/volunteer to find the way that’s right for you to get involved.