National Volunteer Week is April 7-13
By Dana Trumbull
What do Lady Gaga, Prince Harry, Congressman Ben Crenshaw and retired Apache Junction Revenue Development Manager Roger Hacker have in common? They all volunteer for disaster relief efforts with Team Rubicon, along with approximately 99,000 other people from all walks of life.
Team Rubicon is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that specializes in the rapid deployment of emergency response teams to provide immediate relief to those impacted by natural disasters and humanitarian crises. What makes the organization truly unique, though, is that 70% of the volunteer workforce are veterans.
Marines Jake Wood and William McNulty are the founders of Team Rubicon. In January, 2010, they led a small group of veterans, first responders and medical professionals to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to provide aid to thousands of earthquake survivors. Trusting the skills they had honed through years of service in the military, they were able to react while more traditional aid organizations were still organizing their response.
As Team Rubicon grew, many veterans were drawn to the military-style planning and coordination, as well as the shared sense of purpose and camaraderie among the “strike teams.” “It gave me something back that I’d lost when I took off my uniform,” shared Esmerelda Turner, a disabled Navy veteran (corpsman) who now serves as the Arizona state coordinator for Team Rubicon. “A veteran’s expertise, knowledge and skill set are put to work again. You become a part of something bigger than yourself, and everyone is accepted, because they’re there to help.”
According to the website, teamrubiconusa.org, “By engaging our veterans in continued service through disaster response, not only does Team Rubicon provide relief to affected communities, but many veteran volunteers begin to regain the purpose, community and identity that is difficult to find upon leaving the armed forces.
“While there are real and difficult issues plaguing our veterans – a lack of resources and understanding around mental health, homelessness, unemployment – Team Rubicon does not see our veterans as broken. At Team Rubicon, veterans are the agent of our mission, not the object.”
When volunteers answer a call to action, Team Rubicon provides transportation, food and communal-style housing (often cots set up in a wareouse or gym). Some veterans who might otherwise be homeless choose to go from one deployment directly to the next. Volunteering assures that their basic needs are met, but, more importantly, when working among fellow volunteers to assist other people in their time of need, everyone – whether their usual residence is an alleyway or a castle – is equal, accepted and appreciated.
Apache Junction residents Roger and Brenda Hacker are among the 30% of the volunteers who do not have military backgrounds. Both of them deployed to Florida after Hurricane Michael to assist with clean up. “I don’t have any specific skills,” said Roger, who first heard about Team Rubicon through retired AJ probation officer Rick Sinsabaugh, who is also a “greyshirt” volunteer. “I don’t know how to operate a chainsaw; I’m not trained on heavy equipment, so I was just doing labor – which was great with me. We would muck out houses, or tear them down to the studs to remediate mold or follow the guys with chainsaws to pick up and stack wood from downed trees.
“And sometimes, we would just talk to people. We were meeting them on the worst day of their lives. They’ve lost their homes; they’ve lost everything. Some of them even lost spouses.”
Team Rubicon is now expanding its mission to include service work in local communities. The projects allow volunteers who cannot travel or take extended time off from work to engage. By participating in the local efforts, volunteers also stay primed for emergencies.
Hacker recently met with the AJ Community Development Corporation, a local nonprofit, to discuss a potential project with Rubicon for this fall.
Other nearby projects include working with ASU students to clean up weed growth and trash clogging SRP canals and assisting the city of Mesa in abating code compliance issues.
Team Rubicon has a 4-star (out of 4) rating on Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org). For financial responsibility, the organization received a score of 91.42 out of 100 possible points, and for accountability and transparency, they received a perfect 100 point score.
Funding is through non-government foundations, corporate partners and individual contributions.
All potential volunteers are required to pass two FEMA classes, two Team Rubicon classes and a background check.
For more information or to donate to Team Rubicon, go to teamrubiconusa.org.
‘Run as One’ Event
Sat., April 13, 8 – 11 a.m.
Mesa Riverview Park
2100 W. Rio Salado Pkwy.
Join Team Rubicon, Wounded Warrior Project, Team Red, White & Blue & The Mission Continues for a small run and walk course, games, raffles, massages and a BBQ. All ages and ability levels welcome. Register here: https://donate.teamrwb.org/team/207988
Photo above: L-R: Retired AJ city official Roger Hacker, retired Army Green Beret Sergeant Stephen Morris, active duty Army Specialist Tom Hawkins and retired Army Sergeant Kevin Kothlow worked together after Hurricane Michael