Monday, October 19, 2009

American Samoa: Married Volunteers Work Side by Side—Again

American Samoa: Married Volunteers Work Side by Side—Again

By Christi Harlan

In 40 years of marriage, Leonard Watts calculates that he’s spent no more than three weeks at a time away from his wife, Vicki. That’s why, he said, he and Vicki are on American Samoa with the American Red Cross—their eighth assignment together as volunteers in Red Cross disaster services.

“It’s enjoyable to have her around,” Leonard, 67, said in an interview from American Samoa, where he has been working with the mass care component of disaster services, acquiring supplies and repackaging them to help the families affected by the September 29th tsunami.

And, as a partner in a 40-year marriage, Vicki, 61, offered a slightly different take on working as a couple: “Sometimes it’s helpful; sometimes it’s not. Sometimes one of us can do something the other can’t. We like to help each other.”

On their first assignment together in northern Florida in September 2004, responding to Hurricane Francis—one of four hurricanes to strike Florida that year—Leonard’s commercial driving license earned him a place behind the wheel of an emergency response vehicle—the familiar red-and-white trucks that ply stricken neighborhoods, distributing food and water. On this job, while Leonard works in bulk distribution, Vicki has gone house to house in American Samoa, collecting information on family size and needs.

“The ones we’ve gone to have lost everything—their clothes are gone; their house is totally gone,” Vicki said. “Sometimes, the water was 10-feet high. Some of the families’ belongings were sucked back into the ocean; some were left in the house with mud.”

From their own home in Utah, Team Watts has traveled to Florida, New Jersey, Texas and, now, American Samoa. Leonard has become recognizable along the way for the big white cowboy hat he wears during his work for the American Red Cross.

The assignment to American Samoa “is the most different” of the couple’s assignments as Red Cross volunteers, Leonard said, but he’s not hanging up his hat: “We’ve done a lot,” he said. “We’d like to do a lot more.”

On that, Vicki was in 100 percent agreement: “We enjoy it. It’s a rewarding experience….We learn more and gain more than we put out.”

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