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Preparedness expert: Teenage disaster responder impresses

Teenage disaster responder is impressive

By Kiana Kabanje
Disaster Preparedness Outreach Program Manager

2020 has been the strangest year many Americans have ever experienced. Back in February, most of us watched the KC Chiefs win the Super Bowl without a second thought that our lives were about to be disrupted by a worldwide pandemic. Yet, here we are, trying to enjoy a beautiful summer in the Pacific Northwest, staying away from other people and wondering if the NFL season will launch off the ground.

Teenagers are also experiencing the same disaster as everyone else, but rather than taking advantage of the lazy days spent at home, many are determined to help their community despite the circumstances. Miles is one such teen.

Miles lives in Washington’s neighbor state, Idaho, and is an active member of the FEMA Region 10 Youth Preparedness Council (YPC). When schools closed back in March, Miles began studying from home like the rest of his peers. He quickly realized that he was spending a significant amount of time sitting at home not knowing how to spend his time.

During the monthly YPC meeting in March, Miles began thinking about how he could help in the response efforts for the COVID-19 pandemic. Miles first contacted his county’s Office of Emergency Management and asked how he could help. Unfortunately, due to age restrictions, he was unable to volunteer in the Office.

This barrier did not stop Miles; his local emergency manager suggested volunteering with the American Red Cross, as their age restrictions are different. As Miles visited his local Red Cross chapter’s website, he saw a banner on the front-page encouraging people to sign up to volunteer at a food bank. He began the process of signing up to be a Red Cross volunteer and even took the initiative to gain his Food Handlers certificate, just in case he would need it. On the day of his first scheduled shift in April, Miles showed up at the food bank and asked how he could help.

For three months, Miles faithfully volunteered at the food bank, averaging 24-30 hours every week. By the end of June, the food bank staff were so impressed with Miles’ responsibility and dependability that they offered him a job at the food bank!

Want to help?
  • Volunteer at a food bank. Food banks in your community need your help. If you are able and willing to volunteer, please reach out to your local food bank and ask how you can help
  • Donate blood and plasma. There's a vital need for blood and plasma donors right now. Learn more here.
  • Donate money. You can support food banks, youth experiencing homelessness,
    support for small businesses, impacted communities and more. Learn more here.
  • Wellness Checks. Check on your neighbors with a call, text or talk through the door. 

How Miles was successful

From March to June, Miles successfully juggled both his school responsibilities and his volunteer responsibilities. In explaining what it was like to keep up with both commitments, he described how he set aside Mondays to complete his school work all in one day, so that he would be available to help the food bank from Tuesday to Friday. Miles hopes his experience can serve as inspiration for others to help their communities.

“Anyone can help – there are so many opportunities to help your local community. Just start somewhere and see where it takes you.”

Miles learned that sometimes youth can be limited by their age, but he also learned that there are still a plethora of opportunities to be found simply by doing research. When asked what he would tell someone else his age (high school) about volunteering, he responded, “You have to be serious and have the internal motivation to help. There are so many ways to help – it’s really up to you and how hard you try. Age is not an acceptable excuse to not help.” As a responsible almost young-adult, Miles acknowledges it was his internal drive to help which led him to his current job. Rather than be told to find somewhere to help or be expected to complete a community service requirement, he simply wanted to help his community experiencing a disaster. His key take-away from the past few months is,

“Barriers are excuses. Everyone can help. Find an excuse to help others.”

Serving at the food bank has been a great experience, Miles says. He enjoys the opportunity to directly help his own community and help people who are greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Miles’ service with a local food bank is an example of how disaster response efforts are not limited to health jurisdictions and emergency management offices. Ordinary people serving their neighbors can be found in food banks, at hospitals, in churches, with non-profit organizations, and many more places.