Red Cross seeks volunteers to bolster local capacity after 'busy, busy' year

The Canadian Red Cross is looking for 160 new volunteers in New Brunswick to respond to emergencies and connect with seniors.

Charity asking for 160 new recruits to respond to disasters, connect seniors

Bill Lawlor says the Red Cross would like to have 120 new volunteers in the province so it can respond swiftly to disasters and another 40 to connect with seniors. (CBC News)

The Canadian Red Cross says it's been called on often in the past year to help New Brunswickers and now it's looking to expand the base of local volunteers who help provide that support.

The charity is looking for 120 new emergency management volunteers and 40 community check-in volunteers, said provincial director Bill Lawlor.

"This was busy, busy year for us in New Brunswick," said Lawlor. "The floods, we had several other evacuations, nursing homes or seniors' special care homes, we had to respond to the tragic shooting in Fredericton. These things are happening more and more often and we really need to boost our capacity."

The Red Cross can bring in volunteers from outside provinces when necessary.

"But we'd like to be able to have that local capacity as strong as possible so we can respond swiftly and make sure that folks are being well taken care of," he said.

There are 200 emergency management volunteers right now, he said. They sign up for a wide variety of tasks and are provided with all the necessary training, Lawlor said. Some are service workers.

Canadian Red Cross volunteers help run shelters during disasters such as extended power outages and floods. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

"For example, you come into a shelter and you would assist someone with their registration to the Red Cross or direct them to services within the facility," he said.

Others take on leadership roles.

"You may want to because of your skill set and what you do in your career or because of what you did before you retired — you may have been a manager or a leader within your organization — and we're looking for leaders as well," Lawlor said.

New volunteers may be asked to take two to five courses in the run of a year, he said. They are all free of charge.

"We'll make sure that you're ready to go."

People who volunteer for this program are sometimes asked to respond to disasters in other parts of Canada and the United States, such as the Fort McMurray wildfires or hurricanes in the southern U.S.

Lawlor said events like those can provide invaluable experience.

The Red Cross had hundreds of staff and volunteers on the ground in Alberta responding to the aftermath of the Fort McMurray wildfires. (Radio-Canada)

"They go for three weeks. Then they bring that knowledge and experience back to us. If you were providing support in downtown Manhattan during Superstorm Sandy, you have a pretty good skill set to offer support to New Brunswickers during a flood," he said.

The other program in need is one that matches a volunteer with a senior who may not have family or friends close by.

This program was revamped and relaunched about a year ago, said Lawlor.

"Before it was just a phone call to check in and see how you're doing. Now, it's more of a community connector program and connecting clients to what's happening," he said.

"Maybe they find out the client is a crib player and they'll be able to identify what's happening in the local church hall or other local activities that are geared more towards the senior population."

In its first year of operation, Lawlor said, this program has had some "very interesting" outcomes.

"We've actually had a client advise us that they no longer require our services because of the fact that the volunteer was able to connect them to their community," he said.

Volunteers with the Canadian Red Cross's Community Check-in Program let the senior they are paired with know about events of possible interest to them in the community and encourage them to participate.

"They ended up literally having new friends and acquaintances to the point where they no longer had that feeling of isolation.

"We can't have much more of a positive impact than that."

Others simply appreciate the human contact, said Lawlor.

"For some of us and most of us, perhaps, we never think that we're going to have that feeling of isolation when we get older and never have any communication or contact with anyone. But the sad reality is there are many New Brunswickers who do in fact feel that level of isolation and really appreciate that phone call."

Lawlor said anyone interested in volunteering can go to redcross.ca/volunteer or stop in to their nearby Red Cross office.

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