February 14, 2012 — It's 3 a.m. Newlyweds Jonathan and Kristin Greene are awakened by the sound of pounding rain and, upon crawling out of bed, find themselves ankle-deep in water. They flee their home and luckily are able to get to a nearby shelter.
This scenario was among several role-playing exercises that 10 University of Virginia students encountered during an American Red Cross Disaster Mini-institute, held in January. Sponsored by the Charlottesville chapter, the institute certified the students as official first responders to area disasters.
Stephanie Montenegro, U.Va. Red Cross Club secretary and second-year foreign affairs student in the College of Arts & Sciences, set up the event at the suggestion of Philip Day, volunteer and communications coordinator for the Red Cross in Charlottesville.
"Disasters can happen any time of the day. You can have a fire at 3 a.m. as much as you can have one at 7 p.m.," said Day, who hopes to forge a strong connection with U.Va to help ease the demands on local first responders.
When a disaster strikes, the Red Cross receives a dispatch from emergency services detailing the situation. From there, the area's Disaster Action Team leader contacts the first responders to volunteer.
Montenegro and the other students joined the U.Va. Red Cross Club because they want to answer that call. Montenegro explained that a medical condition prevents her from being able to donate blood, so she joined the club to give in other ways.
Rebecca Clemo, a third-year biomedical engineering student and vice president of health and safety education for U.Va. Red Cross Club, said she joined the club because the Red Cross offered the perfect opportunity to become more involved in the larger Charlottesville community. The mini-institute is just the first step in the club's hope to expand in the future, she said.
Day of the Red Cross noted that the U.Va. students were both thorough and compassionate during the institute's role-playing exercises. He saw that they truly spent the time to think the scenarios out as if they were real, asking themselves, "How can we best help this person?"
"These students just had a real heart for people in need," he said.
Montenegro said the mini-institute demonstrates U.Va.'s dedication to the greater Charlottesville area. "We live in this community, and we have this idea that U.Va. doesn't care about the rest of Charlottesville sometimes," she said. "It's great to be proved wrong with how many people are interested in the mini-institute."
Marge Sidebottom, director of U.Va.'s Office of Emergency Preparedness, commended the student participants for their work.
"Public service is a key element in the University of Virginia experience and the opportunity to volunteer in the wake of an emergency is a very powerful, enriching way to give back," she said.
In addition to U.Va., Day noted that the American Red Cross in Charlottesville also works with James Madison University, Blue Ridge Community College and Shenandoah University.
He said he hopes these students will continue acting as Red Cross volunteers wherever they land in the future. "I can guarantee wherever they go, whether New York City or small-town America, the Red Cross is going to need their help," he said.
— By Lisa Littman