January 28, 2013

RSVP – Lead With Experience

By Bill Sedlacek
Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Eastern Iowa and Western Illnois

Debi and Chester Brees, Strengthening our Community Together

While I was talking to Chester and Debi Brees regarding their involvement with the Rock Island County Emergency Volunteer Registration Center, I asked them what other volunteering they had done or were still doing. The list is quite impressive. While they may not hold the record, they have been involved in more programs than any other couple I have met.

Their RSVP-sponsored volunteering includes, Greyhound Rescue, the senior computer center at the RSVP office, Bald Eagle Days, the ARC Thanksgiving day meal, Festival of Trees, Angel Tree Program, packing school supplies, and Living Lands and Waters events. They are considering helping newly arrived immigrants with English, in addition to their involvement in the Rock Island County emergency Volunteer Registration Center (VRC).

They are the type of folks who bring their work home with them; the greyhound sleeping in the other room is proof of that. The 11-year-old, which they have had for 10 years, never stirred or barked when I came into the house. When I remarked that she must not be much of a watchdog Chester replied “Oh, yes she is, if a burglar came in, she would watch him come in and she would watch him leave!” I guess he meant after the burglar looted the house. I wish my Pomeranian had been that calm. The Greyhounds were their first volunteer experience. They were introduced to the Program by the late Davenport Fire Chief, Tom Ryan, when he and his wife, Doris were showing the dogs to the public at PetCo. They were impressed by the program, and they agreed to help. Thus began their volunteer life.

When asked what motivates them to volunteer, Chester and Debi say that it provides them a great deal of satisfaction, gives them something to do while helping others and sets an example for their children and grandchildren. As Debi says; “We are all in this life together, the Government cannot do everything, and we must help each other.” She also hopes that seeing the two of them volunteer together will persuade their children and grandchildren to do the same.

Although they will continue to volunteer in other areas as they have in the past, their enthusiasm for the VRC is evident in discussions with them. Both of them have developed skills in their working life that will be valuable to the VRC. She had a career in administration and has excellent computer skills. He, like a lot of us older guys, says he is not well skilled in computer applications. It is obvious however; that in his working life as a Supervisor at the East Moline Correctional Center, he developed what could be called “People Skills.” One could not oversee other guards and be responsible for the security and safety of 400 to 500 inmates and not have them. While I am not trying to equate volunteer work at the VRC with working with inmates, I am sure that well-developed “People Skills” are helpful in both activities. I did not ask him, but Chester seems to be a reasonable and soft spoken man, and he probably won’t put you on lockdown when you volunteer for the VRC.

The VRC was established as a way to safely process community volunteers following any natural or man made disaster. VRC staff work with emergency personnel to check backgrounds and match them to needs phoned in by emergency providers in the field. This way, volunteers will go where and when needed, and not get in the way or enter a dangerous situation unaware. The need for VRCs was recognized after 9/11. Chester interviews potential volunteers to learn their skills and determine in what capacity they would be most effective. Debi is one of two lead coordinators, who open the VRC, keep records, organize information and assignments and help to make sure that VRC staff know what to do.

The VRC has about 25 volunteers now and could use twice that many. The mission is to assist the authorities and public in a natural or man made disaster. In the event of a flood, a storm, or God forbid, a terrorist attack, the VRC wants to have volunteers prepared to help out. All sorts and levels of skill are required, but you do not have to have a specific skill to volunteer. Sometimes, just a pair of hands to help or a pair of eyes to report hazards after a storm or a flood is a big help. VRC staff make sure that volunteers won’t be assigned to any job that they cannot perform. People who are able to run a chain saw may remove downed limbs after a storm. Skilled nurses may bandage a wound or young people may load sandbags, but folks who can spot the downed limbs, take phone calls, provide comfort to the injured, or just help by bringing drinks and food to others are also needed.

Whatever potential volunteers do, they will need to go to the VRC first and get processed. If you would like to help, call RSVP at (309) 793-4425 and ask for Linda or email lnielsen@wiaaa.org. There is a drill coming up this spring or early summer, and that would be a good way to get started. Be sure to say “Hi” to Chester and Debi while you are there.