Meet the Red Cross Shelter’s Honorary Event Planner

By Taylor Poisall, American Red Cross Public Affairs

Jessica Dotterer has a personality you can’t help but be immediately drawn to. She would introduce herself as the unofficial event planner and a member of the welcoming committee at one of our Red Cross shelters for the French Fire. You would never know that she had been evacuated from her home for a week.

Thanks to some Red Cross disaster workers, she helped carry out a movie night last Friday night. And when she found out that a couple from Wofford Heights, Don and Diann, were celebrating their 35th anniversary last Saturday, Jessica wanted to help them make their day special. She tasked the Red Cross workers and other residents to sign two cards, one for day shift and one for night shift, and got to work planning the party three days before. It was something everyone began looking forward to as they whispered about their big secret plan. The Red Cross and their Board Members helped by donating party supplies, ice cream and other treats to pull it all off. The Madison’s were so surprised and grateful for the thoughtfulness of everyone’s actions. It ended up being perfect timing because hours later they would get the notice they could safely return home.

Jessica stayed at the shelter with her dog, Daisy, and her cats, Kalaya and Preston. Her mom Diana even came to visit the day of the party. Jessica’s cats were staying in the Kern County Animal Services air-conditioned trailer and Daisy in the dog kennel area with the Central California Animal Disaster Team. She told us all of their animals were doing great thanks to CCADT and Animal Services. “They have treated them so well… they keep them clean and allow the owners to walk them and hold their pets whenever they please.” The staff clean the kennels every day, but she decided she would help the staff out by cleaning her cat’s litter box since “I’ve had cats all my life… I’m used to that and wanted to do my part.”

“When I first arrived, the Red Cross made me feel extremely welcomed. I was so nervous; I’ve never had to evacuate before. When a group saw that I was by myself, some people staying in here welcomed me and took care of me. I’ll never forget that.”

Wofford Heights resident, Jessica Dotterer

Jessica and the other residents made a community of their own. They had their assigned seats at their table and invited the other residents to join them. Together, they listened to the Facebook Live Community Meetings, played card games and poker, and ate their meals together. Last week she noted, “We’ve really become friends, and now I help welcome other people coming into the shelter.”

Her new group of friends all recently moved to Wofford Heights within the last couple years. “We’ve lived down the street from one another for years and never met before because of COVID-19.” They took down each other’s contact information so that they can have a BBQ reunion party in a few weeks following the wildfire.

“All the Red Cross workers are so friendly and checking in on me. They always have a seat at ‘our table’. Even though we have two legs, they’re cleaning up after us and making sure we have plenty to eat and drink.”

Every day, she took her dog to the nearby park during the day so they both could stretch their legs. Once after coming back from the park, her new friends gave her the nickname “Driving Miss Daisy”.

Jessica shared “I can’t believe it, but I love it here.”

Jessica plans to sign up to become a Red Cross volunteer after she is settled from returning home. She loved how everyone pitched in to help each other and make evacuees feel safe and comfortable during a disaster.

You too can join Jessica as a volunteer! Sign up to join the Red Cross at redcross.org/volunteertoday

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