Man in the eye of storms
February 13, 2006 - He's a long way from Brazil, Honduras and Chile, but Patrick Widner is happy for now in Yuba City, serving as the new director of emergency services at the Three Rivers Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Widner, 63, was interviewed by the Appeal-Democrat in his first week with the Yuba City-based chapter. He related his experiences in the Peace Corps, which took him to as many as 44 countries, where he saw the many benefits of volunteering.
One of his first self-imposed tasks in his Three Rivers post is to focus more support on Red Cross volunteers.
“Initially, what I'm going to do is try to understand the depth of resources that exist, both in terms of material and people,” Widner said Friday. “I'm also trying to get a sense of where we need to do more to support our volunteers; this is extremely important.”
Widner lives in Davis and commutes to his Yuba City office on East Onstott Road. He also still serves as a Disaster Assistance Team captain with the Yolo County Chapter of the Red Cross, so he will be on call in the event of an emergency there as well.
“I don't mind,” he said about the many miles he puts in every day. “I've made a personal commitment that I'll be involved in Red Cross.”
After working as a security officer in the Peace Corps' rural development program for five years, Widner became a bona fide Red Cross volunteer when Hurricane Katrina swept across the Gulf Coast in September. He went to Louisiana to help.
“It enhanced my appreciation of this country,” Widner said.
Widner said his main concerns for the Three Rivers Chapter are to have programs in place - for all eight counties the chapter serves - in the event of any kind of emergency.
“I'm not re-inventing work that's already been done - I just want to bring it up to date,” he said. “I'm also looking at how you mitigate the danger in terms of flooding. People come up with horrific diseases from the contaminated water, so we want to teach them to go up, not through the water to a neighbor's house.”
Widner said community education is key to preparing for disasters. But, he said, disasters are not all the Red Cross is about.
“One of the things I hope we can do as well is tell more of the story of what Red Cross really does,” Widner said. “People don't realize that Red Cross is alerted when there's a fire, and we meet basic needs, whether (the victims) need lodging, clothing, medication, glasses, whatever they leave behind.”
Widner said the training and education portion of Red Cross services are just as important as assisting victims. The organization offers CPR and First Aid classes, lessons in building barriers for flooding, and CERT - or Community Emergency Response Team - training for residents to know how to help in emergencies.
Widner's heart is with the volunteers, he said, whether he is a volunteer or a staff member.
“Many people were deployed for the first time as volunteers for (last year's) hurricanes, and they've returned now and want to keep helping,” he said. “One of our priorities will be to get together with those volunteers.”
Widner has bachelor's and master's degrees in Latin American studies from the University of California, Los Angeles. Married for 33 years, he and his wife, Gloria, have two daughters, one who is an aspiring actress in Los Angeles, the other attending college.
“What I want to continue to do is tell the complete story of Red Cross beyond the disasters,” he said.
Appeal-Democrat reporter Kymm Mann can be reached at 749-4708. You may e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.