Two volunteers begin anew together after meeting on disaster deployment
Few people can say they met their beloved while helping people seeking refuge from a wildfire. Among them are Danielle Rodgers and Rod Winters – two American Red Cross volunteers.
They met in 2018 during one of the worst years for wildfires in California’s recent history. That year the Red Cross responded to multiple wildfires in the West.
Danielle was new to the Red Cross. She’d just left her professional nursing role after 27 years when she got the call for her first major disaster relief deployment.
Rod was an experienced volunteer who was called to deploy in his regular role managing shelter relief for people displaced during disasters.
Both were sent from separate and distant states to the California mountain town of Weaverville – the “belly of the beast” as Danielle describes it – to help people affected by the Carr Fire. There, they met for the first time at the co-ed shelter for disaster responders.
“I just thought he was a really nice guy,” Danielle says upon reflection.
She’s referring to his exceptional ability to focus on people – strangers from all walks of life – who need help during some of the most difficult days of their lives. “I just couldn’t imagine where people like him came from.”
The Seattle area, it turned out, and known for asking shelter workers, especially those facing the powerful experience of their first national deployment, ‘why are you here?’.
“Deployment can be extremely uncomfortable, rough conditions, hard,” Rod says now and said, in similar words, then. “Did you come here to take care of people? Focus on the purpose – be clear on your own motivation – deal with some hardship.”
He provided insight and context that helped Danielle navigate an intensity of situation many, including an experienced nurse, could find challenging their personal grit and resiliency.
“The first couple of days are always – be cool, deal with the first couple days until you get your assignment – then things settle out. Thankfully she stayed,” he says.
Their Weaverville deployments came to end. “We both went home and went about our lives,” she says.
“It just kind of deepens as you go along,” says Rod. “It was a fortunate meeting for us. I’m very lucky to have this wonderful woman.”
This year they married. For their wedding, they returned to Weaverville and had a small ceremony at Trinity High School, which gave them use of a courtyard, chairs and a table. “It was perfect,” says Danielle. When friends and family asked, ‘why there’, she told them about the impact the town had on them and the perspective it provided.
While there for their wedding, two wildfires started raging. Roads were blocked just like the year they met. “It was difficult to see and hear,” Danielle remembers.
They didn’t have their Red Cross responder gear. But if they’d had it, it’s likely they’d have turned their celebration into doing everything towards alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies.
Story by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross. Photos provided by Danielle and Rod.