By Breanna James, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross
For many Red Cross volunteers and workers, the aspect of providing aid to those who need it most in the times where it is needed most, is the key motivating factor for them to return to a desk, a job site, or even via technology to perform tasks. This motivation is what keeps the spirit of this organization alive.
For one leader, Tammy Prater, Executive Director serving East Texas; the action of giving hope is what keeps her working spirit alive, “Giving out hope on a daily basis is very compelling. I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said.
Beginning the Journey…
Prater began her Red Cross journey of giving hope and even rescuing people at the age of 13, after becoming a junior American Red Cross Lifeguard, and using those learned skills later in her life. “I never became a full lifeguard or worked as one. But years later, while vacationing in Florida, I was under the umbrella, reading a book on the beach. I heard a man crying out for help. No one else seemed to be paying attention. He had his toddler with him. His legs started to cramp. Neither was wearing a flotation device. I was able to swim the toddler to shallow water and pass him along to someone else. I then borrowed a boogie board out to the man and towed him to shore. Almost 40 years after receiving my Red Cross training, I saved 2 lives,” Tammy said.
Heartbreak Turned Into Hope
Imagine returning home from vacation to a destroyed and distraught structure that was once called home. This was the scene for one East Texas family Prater and her team helped, “…they found their house burned to the ground. The woman and her husband, their teenage daughter and her 6 month old son had lost everything except what was in their suitcases (which is more than many of our clients have).”
Tammy and her team stopped at nothing to not only ensure this family got the help they needed, but to uplift spirits as well, I sat with her while the caseworker worked with her. The family owned their land. They were living in a mobile home with the dream one day of building. Their plan was to move the entire family into the husband’s workshop/tool shed. The caseworker explained how we could help. We made some calls to other agencies and even some vendors. When we finished up, the woman burst into tears. I gave her a big hug and told her it was going to be hard but they would be okay. She looked at me and said “I didn’t know where we were going to go or what we were going to do, but now I have hope.”
Not only being humbled by her experiences, Tammy is also further propelled for greatness by her predecessors who have paved the way. When asked about The Red Cross Legacy and women leaders, Tammy said, “It’s hard not to at least mention Clara Barton. She was such a cool dudette – a revolutionary, a pioneer! She was so far ahead of her time.” Barton was a hospital nurse during the Civil War who not only provided relief to soldiers during the war, but was the overall founder of the American Red Cross.
One woman leader, Nedra Turney, former Executive Director of Texarkana also inspired Prater in her journey, “…the woman I most identify with is Nedra Turney. She was the executive director in Texarkana for many years and my mentor when I first started. Nedra, who is retired now, is down-to-earth and friendly. I used to laugh that everywhere we went, someone would walk up and say “aren’t you Nedra?” And Nedra never lost site of our Mission. Her heart was huge,” Tammy said.
Tammy works hard day in and day out to aid multiple clients in her area, but will always remember, “The impact we have on others is not measured in huge numbers – it’s measured one life, one day at a time,” Tammy said.
Hard Lessons to Wisdom
However, not all good things come from easy experiences. Sometimes, failure has to be present for success take place. Words of wisdom and stories always help in the process. “The things I learned the hard way I am not sure there was any training on earth that could have prepared me. I guess I would have spent more efforts learning how to better communicate. Mis-communication always leads to trouble. Failure to communicate always leads to failure,” she said.
Pearls of wisdom are like anything good in life: The more, the merrier. She had this to say to future Red Cross leaders aspiring to make a change, “Study up on our history. We have such a glorious past. You will be inspired and proud to be part of an organization that has so much for so many,” Tammy said.
Having Balance, Even as a Hero
Holding important positions can be stressful. Along with the added stresses of family, children, and other things-balance is key to surviving life. Humbling yourself and realizing blessings is pertinent as well. When Tammy was asked about that balance, she said, “I am lucky to have a supportive family that is proud of my work and makes allowances.”
Not all heroes wear capes, or possess superpowers. But, some come to work everyday with a smile on their face and an unstoppable spirit to help who they can. Tammy Prater, is one of those superheroes.