When disaster strikes and the call for help goes out, it’s not uncommon to picture young men with chainsaws or youth groups hauling debris as the front scene of the recovery and rebuilding efforts.

So, it may surprise you to know that retirees are often the first and most qualified volunteers and temporary employees of disaster relief services.

The Need is Great

In late August, Hurricane Harvey slammed into Houston causing unimaginable damage. Two weeks later Hurricane Irma did the same in southwestern Florida, covering the entire state with her damaging winds at the same time.

As emergency relief aid was immediately dispatched to Texas, Floridians began to wonder if there would be anyone left to head to the Sunshine State after Irma reared her ugly head, too.

Thankfully, the outpouring from around the world was generous and the resources were distributed equally.

Two weeks after Irma, linemen from other states are still working tirelessly to restore power in Florida.

Temporary Employment Opportunities

The U.S. Small Business Association is currently hiring thousands of short-term workers to meet the demand throughout this hurricane season, ending around December 2017.

Those hired can select 30, 60, or 90-day assignments.

Eric Reece Jones, deputy chief of staff for SBA thinks that this form of short-term employment would be a perfect fit for older adults. “It’s perfect for someone who is recently retired,” said Jones. “This is a way to serve your country. I look at this as a great demographic.”

The SBA is currently seeking: damage verifiers, lawyers, paralegals, legal assistants, loan specialists, program support assistants, call center specialists, customer service representatives, public information officers, information technology specialists, construction analysts, and administrative support assistants. In some positions, training may be provided. Being bilingual is a plus.

Volunteer Opportunities

If you don’t have professional experience in any of the above mention fields, if you don’t want to be gone for extended periods of time, or if you simply aren’t looking for a paid position, then volunteering might be the best fit for you.

Local agencies, religious charities, and national organizations all offer a variety of ways to volunteer. If you’re not sure where to put your services to use, consider starting with the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (or NVOAD).

“It’s a wonderful patchwork quilt of help that comes from so many organizations,” said Dan Halyburton, a spokesperson from the Red Cross, one of 60 organizations that make up this network of organizations nationwide.

If you’re looking to volunteer with other seniors, RSVP boasts of being “one of the largest volunteer networks in the nation for people 55 and older.”

RSVP offers volunteers the opportunity to select how often the wish to volunteer, where they would like to go, and how they would like to serve.

Some volunteer opportunities include but are not limited to working with disadvantaged or disabled youth, teaching English to immigrants, assisting victims of natural disasters, and volunteering in shelters.

Helping Now and Helping Later

While there are always immediate needs after a natural disaster, the ongoing needs often get overlooked. People in the hardest hit areas will still be trying to rebuild their lives long after we’ve forgotten their tragedies and moved on to whatever’s coming next.

Large disaster relief operations can take a great deal of time to coordinate and carry out long-term, so consider donating your time and services in the coming months if you are unavailable to help right now.

If you know people that live in devastated areas, ask what needs they have and work one-on-one to help a specific family. Connect your church group, athletic group, or other activity group with a similar group in a disaster area. Offer to sponsor or adopt a family or group. Make plans now to help them over the upcoming holidays.

With a little thought, a bit of creativity, and a lot of heart you can make a big difference.

Have you ever volunteered to do disaster relief work? What did you learn? How would you like to help others? Join in the conversation!

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