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Wednesday, September 7, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Red Cross doing volume business in volunteers

Seattle Times staff reporter

Red Cross training sessions


General orientation Tomorrow through Saturday, at 1900 25th Ave. S. Sessions begin at 9 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

The location is subject to change, so check the Seattle Red Cross Web site at www.seattleredcross.org or call 206-726-3566.

The Rev. Lillie Releford-Gross and her daughter Robin Stroud, who moved to Kent from Georgia three years ago, are among hundreds in the area wanting to volunteer with the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

They know what a tough transition such a big move can be even under the best of circumstances, and want to show some Southern hospitality to those arriving here in distress.

Normally, the King and Kitsap chapter of the Red Cross holds a general-orientation class about twice a month for prospective volunteers. But responding to both the urgent need for volunteers and high numbers of people wanting to help, the agency has started a weeklong mass-orientation program, offering three classes a day.

More than 130 people showed up for yesterday's sessions, and Katherine Boury, spokeswoman for the local Red Cross, said she doesn't expect the interest to slow soon.

"This is not a sprint, it's a marathon," Boury said, saying volunteers will be needed for months to come.

Nationally, about 40,000 volunteers will be needed to help in the immediate aftermath, she said.

The rush to get volunteers through the orientation process is also because of the time it takes to train them. Depending on whether volunteers will he helping those who've made it to shelters or those still stranded in devastated areas, training could take anywhere from a few days to a few months.

As evacuees begin arriving in Washington, local volunteers will help out in shelters at McChord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis, and answering phones at the Red Cross offices, said Nancy Watchie, a volunteer who is helping coordinate the training classes.

"You guys are going to be the hands and the feet," Watchie told prospective volunteers yesterday, responsible for greeting new arrivals, preparing meals and being there for a shoulder to cry on. "You're a face, and you're a friend."

Releford-Gross and Stroud said they want to be exactly that. Stroud said she wants to work with children, while her mother empathizes with senior citizens having to leave the only home they may have ever known.

Boury said the need at the local level is urgent, though volunteers are being trained only to work in shelters — not to take evacuees into their own homes. Those interested in doing so should contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency, she said.

Many wanting to help have expressed interest in serving on the front lines of the devastated areas. Training for that work is more intensive and may take up to six months, said coordinator Kathy Burge.

Volunteers must be in good health before committing, she said.

Vanessa Renée Casavant: 206-464-2761 vcasavant@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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