Inside the Diary of a Red Cross Volunteer on Deployment

By: Wendy Swift, Photos and diary entries by: Johann Coeltzer-Liversage

American Red Cross volunteer, Johann Coetzer-Liversage, recently completed his third deployment in Florida to help those impacted by Hurricane Ian. Johann is a public health professional who spent years working with people living with behavioral and mental health challenges. As part of his employment, he managed various programs and provided counseling and supervision services. It is his work within Public Health that drew him to the Red Cross, where he performs disaster risk management and case management. Johann started volunteering in October 2022. Since then, he has made a significant impact, deploying to Florida three times during hurricane season. Johann states that he has been honored to work with people dedicated to serving others, and to be touched by the many people we have served in the disaster areas. “Each deployment I come back more enriched and grateful for what I have and am able to give.”

Thank you Johann for your tireless dedication.

Below are clips from Johann’s diary entries during his third deployment to help the people of Florida:

Day 1

I can’t stop wondering how I can be of service to those who need help. What help can I give this time around during my third deployment to Florida? Having witnessed the trauma of both hurricanes, a memory is forever etched in my heart and mind.

An ambassador awaits my arrival to assist me to my next destination as I arrive after 6 pm. I received a message from her whilst in the air to let me know she would be waiting for me. I am overwhelmed by the welcome I receive.

Day 2

The headquarters is streaming full of new volunteers. We have an orientation for a few minutes to welcome the new volunteers and told what gap we would be doing. I am told that I would be doing “Appeals”. This is a new gap for me however I will receive training. Every volunteer comes with a story and each one is unique and different, yet everyone has the same thread passing through their veins. These people care. They have left their homes to come here to help and make a difference.

Day 3

I watch my supervisor, Bekkie, who has a heart of gold and who, like me, has to catch her breath as each story we hear is similar but unique to the person as we are their last hope. As the day progresses, we get to know our team. I am blown away by the case workers as we sit in an office at the back. They sit together out front and do the intakes. I hear stories and each story has the same ending “I lost everything.” I see pictures and all I can do is complete an appeal and hope it will get seen too. I watch as clients turn and leave the room, their shoulders slouched, tears have been shed and I look at my supervisor. We just smile and know that we understand.

Day 4

During my last deployment to Florida, I went down to the beach as I wanted to get an understanding of what people lost and went through so I could look through a lens of understanding when I heard their stories. I could never experience what they were going through but I was able to pause for a moment and be with them. I can empathize as I believe every person who works with people who have gone through trauma should take a moment to go and see the disaster that occurred. This will create compassion and understanding for what the person sitting in front of you is going through and why they feel so helpless and hopeless.

Day 5

I go down to the beachfront with my colleagues, Bekkie and Bonnie. I remember two months ago right after the storm I drove this way. There is still so much damage even now as clean-up has started most of the land is barren, buildings have been demolished due to structural damage, and piles of debris are still piled up along the street.

There is silence in the car. Loss is felt, I now understand the magnitude of every story and every tear as I feel the loss so many people have experienced here. I have been given this chance to witness this firsthand. I will never forget this moment, the emotions of realizing something bigger is at hand as I realize the magnitude of what a hurricane can do. I feel the people who lived here, who went through the storm.

I am relieved once we are back at work. As I watch Bekkie and Bonnie work with the people who come in, I see they are there for them with new compassion, love, and understanding. You get to know people if you open your heart, not only are they there to help, but you see their vulnerability, and you become a Red Cross Team—with a sense of “A Now Family” as I would say. Soon you will go different ways, but you will remember each other because you helped each other get through the challenging times on deployment.

Day 6

The people keep coming through. I notice that most of the people we see are elderly, they have lost everything and are looking for a little piece of hope. My supervisor Bekkie and I work well together as we support each other through Appeals. Sometimes I am at a loss for words and Bekkie steps in or sometimes Bekkie is at a loss for words, and I must step in. This deployment was emotional yet rewarding but we were able to support each other through the challenges we encountered and faced. We were able to problem solve and look for the “YES” when we could.

I look back at my three different deployments and each one was different, working as a Red Cross volunteer is for me so rewarding, and if I am able to help one person this was for me an achievement.

After Johann’s inspiring work in Florida, he was requested to return for a fourth time. Johann has stepped up to the challenge yet again.

If you would like to make a difference in someone’s life, consider becoming an American Red Cross Volunteer. There are many ways to volunteer and the rewards are limitless. For more information on volunteer impact and a list of most-needed positions, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

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