Written by Bob Wallace, American Red Cross
Found at American Red Cross of Mid-South
As Hurricane Irma ripped through Caribbean islands and bore down on the coast of Florida, American Red Cross volunteers Mary and Forrest Clark followed the news closely from a South Carolina campground comfortably ensconced in their home on wheels, a 40-foot recreational vehicle. Knowing that a massive relief operation would be needed after the storm, they notified the Southwest Wisconsin Chapter of the Red Cross, their home chapter, that they were available for deployment. Soon they were on the road heading for the Atlanta area, where they waited safely for Hurricane Irma to pass.
The Clarks are members DOVE (Disaster Operations Volunteers Escapees), a subgroup of the Escapees RV Club, that has partnered with the American Red Cross since 2003. DOVEs are highly qualified Red Cross volunteers who either live in an RV or have one that may be used to respond to disasters. They are trained to assist in many different roles during large or small disaster responses.
After contacting their chapter and going through the standard Red Cross deployment process, the Clarks were sent to Fort Myers, Florida, to assist with the Hurricane Irma response. They found a spot to park their RV amongst the semi-truck loads of food adjacent to a Southern Baptist Kitchen where meals were being prepared for the Red Cross to deliver to people affected by the disaster.
Both Forrest and Mary are working in Florida as members of a Disaster Services Technology (DST) team. When a disaster strikes, DST members quickly mobilize to set up the communications systems necessary for a successful disaster response operation. Using mobile equipment to establish satellite connectivity, they are able to network laptop computers, printers, cell phones, and even ham radios. In only a few short hours, a DST group is capable of setting up an office in an empty warehouse or other available space that can provide workspace for hundreds of Red Cross disaster responders with full connectivity to the rest of the world.
Working in this area is a natural for Forrest who is a Ham radio operator and studied electrical engineering as a young man, but this is the first time for Mary to serve as a member of a DST team. In past disasters she has served a member of feeding teams and also in bulk distribution, delivering disaster recovery supplies to people in need.
Mary and Forrest have been living in the 320 square feet of their RV and traveling the country for the past five years. Upon retiring – Mary, from a career as a school librarian and Forrest, from serving as a Minister in the United Methodist Church – they sold or gave away most of their possessions and moved into the RV.
“I was a minister as well as a seminary librarian and professor, and Mary was also a librarian, so you can imagine the hundreds and hundreds of books that we had,” said Forrest. “Many of them went to a little Bible college and a public library where they are being put to good use.”
“We love the lifestyle,” said Mary. “Seeing new things and going where we please.”
“It’s been a dream since my mid-twenties to live on the road, have an RV, and just travel,” Forrest shared. “And Mary went along with my dream.”
Hurricane Irma is not the first time that Forrest and Mary have deployed with the Red Cross. In fact, it is their fifth deployment this year.
In addition to deploying to disasters, Forrest has a regular volunteer activity with the Red Cross chapter in Southwest Wisconsin providing regular fiscal reviews to make sure that disaster assistance is being provided in accordance with Red Cross doctrines and financial controls.
Prior to retiring Forrest and Mary had never worked with the Red Cross.
“We were looking for something meaningful to do, something different from our careers. I started out as a member of our chapter’s Disaster Action Team, responding to a lot of local disasters. We both went through lots of Red Cross training,” said Forrest. “It’s been a good retirement activity.”