Why I Volunteer: Unforgettable Experiences

By Dan Santos, Red Cross Volunteer

Garrett Mizuo has been to many disaster scenes in the past as a volunteer with the American Red Cross. He’s helped victims of hurricanes, wildfires and mass shootings, but he wasn’t quite ready for what he saw after a monstrous tornado tore through western Kentucky last December. A tornado relief response “was a new experience for me,” he shared.

A band of deadly tornadoes tore through parts of the South and Midwest, leveling homes, businesses and entire communities. The devastation was eye-opening for Mizuo. Upon arriving in Kentucky on Dec. 22, Mizuo got straight to work helping a Red Cross emergency response vehicle distribute food and supplies to survivors. “It was a memorable day. I was asked if I was able to go to the hardest hit areas without being distressed,” Mizuo said.

“Seeing the rubble up close and being in the middle of that devastation, that’s something I’ll never forget.”

Red Cross volunteer Garrett Mizuo took this selfie shortly after arriving in Kentucky to help tornado victims.

Like always in a time of need, the Red Cross deployed an army of volunteers, staffers, equipment and supplies to deliver care, shelter and hope. Mizuo, and seven other Red Cross volunteers and staff from the Central California Region, spent the Christmas and New Year’s holidays away from home.

One month into the relief effort, the Red Cross and its partners served more than 73,400 meals and snacks, distributed over 41,000 relief items, and provided some 24,000 overnight emergency shelter and hotel stays in Kentucky alone.

Mizuo was first drawn to volunteering after seeing the damage in Houston from Hurricane Harvey in 2017. “I thought then, I’d like to be able to help people affected by disasters like that,” Mizuo said. “I find that very fulfilling.”

Mizuo has experience working with the Red Cross clients in mass sheltering situations- Hurricane Harvey; Hurricane Florence in North Carolina (2018); and the Woosley fire in Ventura and Los Angeles counties (2018).

In Kentucky, due to the pandemic, there was an emphasis on providing displaced tornado victims with a private place to stay over the holidays. That ruled out the typical sheltering option and instead many clients were placed in non-congregate settings, staying in hotels and other available housing. “I was used to setting up cots and having lots of people around,” Mizuo said. “I was glad to help out. I missed helping and meeting the community members, but overall, it was a good experience.”

Mizuo, 36, a Thousand Oaks resident, also recalled being torn by dual disasters closer to home.

On Nov. 7, 2018, a devastating mass shooting occurred at the Borderline Bar & Grill which took 12 lives and injured dozens more.

The Woosley Fire started the next day. Mizuo’s home was in the evacuation zone. “The Red Cross was helping victims of both events at the same time,” Mizuo said. “The Red Cross shelter needed help. I worked there the entire time not knowing if I’d have a place to go back to. I had to put that in the back of my mind so I could help the clients.”

Mizou has plenty of experience helping others. He writes his own instrumental piano music, and additionally has previous professional experience working with people suffering from cerebral palsy. “I love helping people in need, in my personal life or otherwise,” he said.

The Red Cross must be ready for every disaster, big or small, and Red Cross volunteers respond to an average of more than 60,000 disasters per year—including single-family or apartment home fires, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires. Communities turn to Red Cross volunteers, like Garrett, in their darkest hours because they know they can depend on us right after the disaster and through their recovery.

JOIN US We need you. Visit redcross.org/volunteertoday to learn how you can make a difference in one of our most-needed positions. 

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