The Red Cross is making a special effort to reach out to residents of Oklahoma City's growing Hispanic community, especially those who are vulnerable to house fires.
“The Oklahoma Hispanic population is growing exponentially,” said Toby Friesen, program coordinator for the American Red Cross Resiliency Program. “As a community we need to be prepared to respond bilingually when disaster strikes.”
The Resiliency Program is designed to help disaster-stricken communities bounce back and become better than ever, Friesen said.
Red Cross officials noticed the agency was receiving a lot of requests for help from people in south Oklahoma City, where there is a large Hispanic community, Friesen said.
“We want to build trust so that if our assistance is needed, that people feel comfortable reaching out to the Red Cross,” he said.
Friesen said leaders of the Resiliency Program wanted to start with communities that are more vulnerable to not knowing how to come back from a disaster.
During the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Jan. 19, the Red Cross teamed with local volunteers, the Oklahoma City Fire Department, Dell and other sponsors to provide fire safety information to residents of south Oklahoma City.
Gloria Torres, a Spanish teacher at Santa Fe South High School, participated in the service day with her students.
“We knocked on doors and talked to them about fire prevention,” Torres said.
Torres said her bilingual students helped translate as they visited neighborhoods.
“I felt very good about giving back to the community,” said Getsemani Ciaz, 16, one of Torres' students. “Not many people know about fire safety.”
Fire safety and prevention door hangers in English and Spanish were provided to the homes the volunteers visited, Friesen said.
In conjunction with the Resiliency Program, concerned community members in south Oklahoma City meet to develop plans to partner with businesses and churches so that residents might see familiar faces and be more comfortable with the help and changes being proposed, Friesen said.
Holy Angels Catholic Church, which has a congregation of 600 mostly-Hispanic families, recently hosted a Resiliency Program event which included the fire department bringing a truck for the children to enjoy.
The success of the event was enhanced by a bilingual firefighter, said the Rev. Mike Chapman, Holy Angels priest.
“Sometimes when you don't speak the language it can be difficult,” Chapman said. “They were well-respected and well-accepted, they did well to make themselves available for questions the families had about fire safety.”
The Red Cross has bilingual volunteers who help after house fires and other disasters but is always looking for more support.
“At these events, we are trying to build support from the community to show help is needed,” Friesen said. For volunteering opportunities, go online to www.redcross.org/ok/oklahoma-city/volunteer or visit the Red Cross office at 601 NE 6.
“We want the Hispanic community to be included in what we do and vice versa,” Friesen said.