This month, we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and the many Red Cross volunteers who give their time and talent to our mission. Volunteers like Manny Lerma who are driven with passion to serve their community and beyond.
After his most recent deployment, Manny shared about his experience volunteering, his culture and how it has impacted his volunteer work with the Red Cross.
By Manny Lerma, Red Cross Volunteer
As an American Red Cross volunteer from Bakersfield, California, I often answer the call to help with national disaster relief operations. When the call came in to serve in Kentucky after devastating tornadoes struck December 2021, a day later I was on a plane flying out of Bakersfield to Denver, then on to Nashville and finally a 2-hour car ride where I would arrive in Mayfield, Kentucky.
The 12-hour days are a way of life for Red Cross volunteers. We accept a two-week commitment to deploy at a moment’s notice. With knowledge of unfriendly mother nature’s activities, we show up to offer relief and assistance sometimes in harsh weather or in the middle of facing the forces of nature, like we experienced with the snowfall and the aftermath of the New Year’s Day tornadoes in Western Kentucky.
The mission of the Red Cross is to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies. We help everyone. And while there are universal needs during a disaster, like food, sheltering, mental health and emergency supplies, communities may have unique needs driven by their culture or condition.
Keenly aware of the fast-growing Hispanic population of 63 million in the United States, the Red Cross has initiated outreach efforts to ensure services are provided to this growing segment of our country. In order to fulfill those needs and truly serve, the Red Cross has engagement teams – one of them is the Latino Engagement Team.
That’s where the Spanish Speaking Red Cross Three Amigos were formed – Manny from California, Juan from Iowa and Alba from Maine, all three with countries of origin that include: Mexico, Puerto Rico and Chile. Unified in the Red Cross tradition of meeting emergency needs in the face of a disaster, we put our Spanish Speaking skills along with our deep desire to alleviate some of the devastation brought on by disasters. In this case, we were stationed in Mayfield to serve.
Acting in preparation to help this community, quick research reflected a high percentage of Guatemalan community members that make up a majority of the 15% Hispanic population in Mayfield. They speak one of the five native dialects, as well as Spanish for some. Latino communities in the United States might face several barriers for service delivery, such as language barriers, fear of consequences due to immigration status and confusion on who we are and what we do. We explain that the Red Cross serves everyone and if they need help, we will provide it.
Knowing this, we reached out to several Guatemalan markets that serve as the focal point for this immigrant community. We set up shop in a market that holds a piece of their soul – the food, language, the back home atmosphere brings this community – a place of familiarity and comfort in a faraway land.
The Red Cross Three Amigos utilized our Spanish-speaking abilities, along with the Red Cross mission and training to “not break the ice” but melt it away communicating in Spanish and with our hearts in the comforts of their little piece of back home.
The Three Amigos are backed up by hundreds of volunteers from all parts of the country who deploy and help provide a safe refuge to those struck by disaster. Please join us in these efforts and become a volunteer at redcross.org/volunteer
Each year, we observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of those whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. Thank you, Manny for sharing yours!