I first saw Alana as she began working as a volunteer in the Red Cross shelter. We talked briefly and I learned she was a high school English teacher.
On her first day she demonstrated that she was there to work hard. I watched as she completed her assigned tasks and then found other work to do. She swept the floor, moved boxes and served food. She later took it upon herself to organize the shelter’s library of donated books and to teach a girl how to shoot a basketball.
On the second day I struck up another conversation with her. I learned that she had just graduated from college and would begin her teaching job in the fall. She told me how she used some of her graduation money to fly with a girl friend to Joplin from her home in Connecticut. She connected with the Red Cross after she arrived there in southern Missouri. (Parenthetically, I should point out that the Red Cross does not encourage people to self deploy to the scene of a disaster. We often use spontaneous volunteers, however, who are willing to work and can fill a particular void. Before this young woman and her friend became part of the Red Cross team, they signed the necessary paperwork, underwent background checks and went through an orientation session.)
As we continued talking, the young woman described what motivated her to spend her own money to help strangers in a disaster. She expressed genuine compassion for those who had suffered such great losses. She told me how she instinctively knew she wanted to help when she saw Joplin on the news.
I asked about her college education and inquired where she had graduated from. She answered, “Harvard University.”
Still not knowing her name, I glanced at her ID badge and learned that her first name was Alana. I also noticed that her last name sounded very familiar so I asked about that. Only then—on the second day of our acquaintance—did I discover that her uncle (who had just attended her graduation) is the Vice President of the United States.
Alana inspired me, not because of her influential family connections, but because of her spirit of unselfish service. She was not working in a Red Cross shelter for political reasons. She was in Joplin simply because she wanted to help others. She wanted to make a difference in the lives of people who needed her help and she expected nothing in return. Alana represented what the Red Cross is all about—people helping people.
Alana gave me a renewed hope that the next generation of Americans will be led by compassionate individuals who are motivated to service for humanitarian reasons.