Volunteer Week: Highlighting Elizabeth Stinson’s Work During Disasters

By: Elizabeth McLaren

One phone call can determine the entire course of Red Cross DAT Responder Elizabeth Stinson’s day. As part of the Disaster Action Team (DAT) in Chester County, Pennsylvania, Stinson knows her circumstances can change in an instant, just as they did on November 16, 2017. News of a five-alarm fire with possible injuries and fatalities at the Barclay Friends Senior Center in West Chester jarred her awake.

“I had fallen asleep on my couch,” Stinson said. “I got the call, got myself together and went.”

Stinson was on the scene of the Barclay fire for over 12 hours, supporting other local emergency responders and Barclay facility staff who were transporting clients to nearby senior and assisted living centers, and reuniting clients with family members. The relief efforts on the ground involved many moving parts. Stinson saw first-hand how small details can matter the most. “It was all about compassionate care. One of the volunteers went out to buy applesauce so patients could take their medicine.”

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Of the experiences Stinson has witnessed during her 419 hours logged as a DAT Responder, and close to 1,300 hours on call, the Barclay fire continues to stick with her. “It was the most rewarding experience I had with the Red Cross. I had no idea going into it how large the fire was or the type of people impacted. When I saw the clientele, we wanted to just keep them warm.”

Stinson helps with Red Cross workforce engagement on the days when she’s not involved with disaster response. She coordinates with Volunteer Services to introduce interested Red Cross volunteers to the many responsibilities of DAT Responders. Stinson helps with Red Cross initiatives such as the Home Fire Campaign and the Pillow Case Project, working towards community engagement for volunteers. She is also part of the committee organizing the Red Cross Disaster Institute offering classes to train DAT Responders. With her many efforts, she keeps one main approach in mind, both for herself and for potential volunteers.

“There’s no typical day at the Red Cross. Every day is different. I think that’s what I like about it. Each day is a new and unique set of challenges. Sometimes it’s routine like updating data and records, but it’s always different.”

Stinson believes that this variety adds value not only to her role, but also to her daily life. “Every experience is something to add to your toolkit. They’re all learning experiences. It’s [about] being a better human being. You get out there and you realize not everyone’s as fortunate as you.”

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