“You can come back”: Madison volunteer who rode out hurricanes at Red Cross shelters flies to Texas to help others recover

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Angela Oakley is no stranger to emergency sheltering during a hurricane.

Oakley remembers days as a teenager spent riding out a hurricane in a shelter near her childhood home in South Carolina. In 2018, she travailed flood waters left behind from Hurricane Florence to reconnect with her husband and gather assistance from a shelter site after they “lost everything that [they] had.”

It’s precisely because of those hurricanes that Oakley moved with her family to Madison, Wisc. last year. And it’s her fortitude and compassion from those hurricanes that found her on a flight first-thing Wednesday morning – this time, as a mass care and sheltering volunteer with the American Red Cross.

Angela Oakley at airport Hurricane Laura

Angela Oakley readies for her flight in Madison to Texas for her first deployment, to help people affected by Hurricane Laura.

“I’m proof that there is still life after disasters. You can come back,” Oakley said.

On Wednesday, Aug. 26, Oakley joined three other volunteers from Wisconsin converging on Texas and the Gulf Coast ahead of landfall by Hurricane Laura. It was Oakley’s first in-person disaster deployment, work she said she’s “drawn to,” given her personal background mixed and her past 10 months of Red Cross preparations.

“I know I’m going to do something I’m trained for, I know I’m with an organization that has done this a million times,” she said. “And you’ve got to have some faith, because I know the people there are going to need the help. So that’s where I need to be.”

Click here for the latest from the American Red Cross on resources, assistance and ways you can help with Hurricane Laura.

In February 2019, she moved with family to the Midwest, into a home that includes her husband, teenage daughter and pets in Madison. By that fall, she had signed up as a Red Cross volunteer, like the ones she remembered after Hurricane Hugo, along with Florence and others. Initial volunteer roles involved client casework on the disaster team and welcoming donors at blood collection site in her new hometown.

Then, last month, she was deployed virtually, in Texas, as it turns out, to get families back up on their feet after Hurricane Hanna drenched parts of the state. Oakley said she was prepared for the role of providing assistance and working with people through the day-to-day challenges from protracted flooding. She wasn’t quite ready for the appreciation people shared back with her.

“To see that fear, that anxiety, that uncertainty turn around, and then you can see hope build … and then you get thanks, gratitude. I was in tears, it was so rewarding,” she said Tuesday evening.

Wisconsin volunteers were among approximately 2,000 Red Cross disaster team members on the ground or assisting remotely as Hurricane Laura approached. In the week leading up to landfall, the Red Cross was busy arranging supplies, sheltering needs and more for people affected by Laura, which had strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane by Wednesday afternoon.

You can support our response and relief for people affected by this hurricane and other disasters in two ways. First – we are always looking for talented, compassionate people to volunteer, both in person and virtually, in myriad ways. Find a volunteer opportunity that fits your passion and lifestyle today at redcross.org/volunteer. Second – the mass movement of humanitarian help and the people who provide it happens because of the generosity of people like you. Your donations make this assistance possible for people in crisis. On behalf of everyone helped during Hurricane Laura and other disasters this year, thank you for your kind gift.