Rachael Van Horn
March is Red Cross Awareness Month.
“It is a time to honor the mission and we use this as a chance to honor the everyday heroes that help us fulfill the mission,” said Northwest Oklahoma Red Cross chapter Disaster Services director Gordon Burgess.
But for the chapter’s newest volunteer, Maria Rodriguez-Cabrales of Woodward, becoming a registered Red Cross volunteer was really more of a happy accident.
According to Burgess, during a recent cold and flu event at the Senior Center sponsored by the Red Cross, Rodriguez-Cabrales had called wanting to know if she could bring some of her Spanish speaking people to the event.
“I told her to bring them because we would have some Spanish language materials but that I had no one to translate,” Burgess said. “And she said she would come and volunteer to be the Spanish translator for the event.”
Later, Burgess met with Rodriguez-Cabrales and told her of his need for a Spanish speaking translator for the Red Cross chapter.
“She seemed very excited and wanted to participate,” Burgess said. “And within a day she had her online application filled out and submitted and within a week her background check was back and she was a registered volunteer and a week after that, we had a house fire in Woodward.”
For Rodriguez-Cabrales, volunteering wasn’t the accident it seemed like at the cold and flu event. Really, the idea had begun forming in her mind way back during the Woodward tornado.
“You know what? When that happened, I wanted to help but I realized that without the training and being a part of Red Cross, I wasn’t going to get past that tape,” she said.
So recently, the part time secretary for the Conservation District and part time English as a Second Language tutor added another qualification to her growing resume. And if you ask her, it could be one of her most cherished titles – Red Cross Volunteer.
Born in Durango, Mexico Maria Rodriguez-Cabrales’ life was anything but easy. Her mother died when she was six-years-old and so she was brought to the United States as a very young child so she could be with her father, who was already here.
“I have had a lot of people help me to get to this point,” she said. “And of all the people who helped me, when I would tell them I would pay them back, they would tell me, the best thing you can do is help someone else. So here I am.”
Rodriguez-Cabrales hopes to give her time in many different functions with the Red Cross. Already, she has been able to help a family receive assistance from the Red Cross, Burgess said. The family spoke limited English and their home was destroyed recently by an electrical fire, according to the Woodward Fire Department report on the blaze.
Rodriguez-Cabrales said she went with Burgess to the site and was able to translate for Burgess the needs the family had.
“I felt good because the people there were nervous about it at first, trying to pull out their English and that’s when they saw someone who spoke Spanish and I could see they felt more comfortable," she said.
Rodriguez-Cabrales has a pretty stated idea about volunteering in one’s own community.
“Well, I kind of think that if you are not willing to volunteer and help, you probably can’t complain,” she said. “I have always been of a mind to help people though and I am so thankful to be in the United States because we have so many opportunities to help others.”
And those aren’t just words. She has two part time jobs she uses to support herself and volunteers for the Red Cross as well as serves on the Northwest Oklahoma Literacy Council.
The active 37-year-old is hungry for education and spends her spare time learning about other cultures.
“I still love to travel,” she said. “Traveling helps you be conscious of other people and other cultures.”
Burgess’s only hope is to find more people like Rodriguez-Cabrales.
He hopes to get the word out that volunteering need not be overwhelming. An hour or two a month is volunteering.
“I have people who say I’m 80 I can’t do anything,” Burgess said. “I certainly don’t expect the 89-year-olds to be lifting up cots - that is for the 19-year-olds.”
But Burgess said there are many needed tasks that someone who is aging can still do such as, answering the phone or handing out bottled water, he said.
According to Burgess, there is a way to utilize every single person’s skills at the Red Cross.
“There is something for everyone here,” he said.
For more information about how to volunteer, consider coming to the next Red Cross meeting at the Woodward Office located just north of the rear parking lot of the Woodward News. Or call Burgess at 580-256-3238.