Jodi Wallace

Monarch Solid Surface

Jodi, on her most recent Red Cross deployment in Texas

Above: Jodi, on her most recent Red Cross deployment in Texas

Jodi and a new friend, Carson, who waited patiently for the water to go down so he could return home.

Above: Jodi and a new friend, Carson, who waited patiently for the water to go down so he could return home.

Just like Clark Kent is Superman, we all have our own alter egos. There is something we do that defines the “other” person we are, the “better” part of us. Perhaps you coach your child’s soccer team, help at a soup kitchen, play in a rock band, or run marathons. Your alter ego is that same person who meets your gaze every day in the mirror, and when unlocked brings out a different part of you–  that something or someone else inside of us that makes us better than we are. For me, I am part of the Red Cross disaster response teams that deploy in times of disasters.

I can distinctly remember sitting in front of my television watching the devastation when Hurricane Katrina hit. Up until that moment my experience with the Red Cross had consisted of my donations of money and blood (not necessarily in that order!). But at that moment, something inside me changed.

I don’t remember how I discovered that the Red Cross was recruiting volunteers to help in what some have called the worst disaster in “our lifetime.” However, I learned of their need, I called and within a week I was sitting in a classroom learning about the Red Cross and its mission. Most people don’t realize 95% of the Red Cross are volunteers. There are paid positions, but the people who are “in the trenches” are almost exclusively volunteers.

Although I have tried several different functions within the organization, I find my true calling is in Mass Care / Sheltering. Shelters are a last resort and having to stay in a shelter is by no means luxurious or fun. Sometimes a client may be there a night or two until they can make other arrangements; sometimes the devastation is such that they are there until the Red Cross shuts the shelter down. We can’t make the bad things go away, but sometimes a friendly face, a sympathetic ear and a warm bed can make a real difference.

I find it funny when people living in “Tornado Alley” find out I’m from California, and tell me, “I would never live there –you have earthquakes!”

Please note that Tornado Alley earned its nicknamed for the states that are hit on a regular basis by tornadoes. I was deployed to Moore, OK a couple years ago when the town was devastated by a cyclone. My heart fell when I heard that they once again had come under the wrath of another storm, recently. 

I may one day have riverfront property in my back yard when “the big one” hits, but when that might be is strictly a guess. For those living in states dealing with tornadoes on a regular basis, you can be pretty sure they will be hit every couple of years!

I recently returned from Texas where excessive rain has caused flooding for those living along the rivers. (The irony of living in a state in the midst of the worst drought we have seen and deploying to a state suffering the effects of terrible flooding was not lost on me! If only I could have brought some of that water home!) 

I will admit that I’m very lucky. I have an amazing husband who supports my deployments. As he has told me several times when I have been trying to decide if I should deploy or not, “There is never a good time to leave, but this is what you trained for.”  Not everyone in his family supports my choice to leave on emergency deployments, but I have his support, and it is Ken’s opinion that matters the most to me!

Owning a small business is hard enough, and being a volunteer just adds to it. Ask any owner living and breathing it day to day, and they will tell you the seven days a week, 16-hour days are horrendous, even if you love what you do. Problems with employees, vendors, and customers can make even the most dedicated business owner question their occupation.

But the person I am when I am deployed and working with our “clients” (Red Cross terminology for those we are there to serve), can be very different from the person I am at home – or even who I am to family and friends. 

Although I deploy on an “as needed” basis (depending on how foul a mood Mother Nature may be in), it becomes an opportunity to remember the “other me” that existed before our business consumed our lives. No matter how I have to drag myself out of bed to go to work when I am home, because I know the problems and aggravation I have to deal with, getting up at 5:00 am when I am deployed is never a problem. That isn’t to say that everything is always great. Like any other organization that has grown over time and become bogged down with bureaucracy and the “too many chiefs, not enough warriors” syndrome, there are definite times of immense frustration. But like a soccer coach dealing with obnoxious parents, I remind myself of why I do what I do, and whom I really serve.

Empathy, patience and understanding are not words that come into my vocabulary much when dealing with our countertop business.  But in my “other life,” my perspective is different. We still have clients who can be a problem and there have been times we have had to call the police on people for drugs, alcohol or violent behavior, but they are the exception to the rule. Most clients are hardworking people just trying to pay their bills and raise their families.

It’s easy for people to get caught up in the materialistic things in life. Living where I do in Silicon Valley, I see this on a regular basis. But it is very humbling to experience the resiliency of people who have lost everything they own from a hurricane, flood, or fire, who can still put a smile on their face, and ask what they can do to help someone else in in need. Deploying reminds me to keep my perspective, no matter how out of control or overwhelmed I may feel in my “day job.”

When I am wearing my red vest and someone on the street walks by and says “thank you for being here,” there is nothing in the world that means more to me. In that instance, to that person, I represent something bigger then myself. And that makes me want to strive to be better than I am.

So the next time you feel something is missing, look around you. Can you identify the thing that makes your pulse race, makes you hold your head a little higher, and makes you want to be the best you can be? Because even Clark Kent had a blue suit to remind him of his true calling.

Jodi Wallace is co-owner of Monarch Solid Surface Designs in San Jose, California. She may be reached at