Canadian Red Cross volunteer Deb Chmara listens to the stories of evacuees from Williams Lake while she helps them at the registration centre in Kamloops. Photo submitted

Castlegar volunteer marks 50 years with Red Cross

Deb Chmara has been helping people around the province for half of a century.

When Deb Chmara started with the Canadian Red Cross in 1968, she was still too young to become a certified water safety instructor. Instead, she joined as a volunteer to build experience in the pool. That experience would spread far beyond that swimming pool, launching a relationship that has seen the Castlegar teacher help thousands of people around the world, throughout five decades of dedicated service.

After helping teach people to swim, Deb spent time with the Red Cross Corps, and formed the Castlegar Red Cross branch where she began assisting local people forced out of their homes by fires, floods, and other catastrophes as part of the disaster management team in the 1970s.

In 1999, Deb started training to expand her humanitarian efforts globally with the Canadian Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross. She has since responded to emergencies from Tajikistan to Afghanistan, Liberia, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and the U.S., including volunteering to help at the Gulf Coast when Hurricane Katrina devastated entire cities and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

“Helping people here at home and internationally is very rewarding, personally,” Chmara says. “I enjoy helping people; it’s that simple. Being able to help others makes me feel worthwhile.”

“Deb’s knowledge and experience are so valuable to the Red Cross,” says Kimberley Nemrava, Canadian Red Cross vice president, B.C. and Yukon. “Her volunteer efforts have helped countless people get their lives back to a new normal in the aftermath of disasters. I always know we can count on Deb in tough situations. Just this past August she was on the front lines with Red Cross helping people forced from their homes by wildfires in the Kootenays. We thank Deb for 50 years of incredible service.”

Deb is also currently the emergency social services director for the Regional District of Central Kootenay and the City of Castlegar.

She previously represented the Kootenays on the Red Cross’ provincial governing council, becoming president of the Kootenay regional council for the BC Southern Interior, and ultimately gaining a position on the Canadian western zone council.

If you’d like to join Chmara and the Canadian Red Cross in assisting people impacted by disasters go online to redcross.ca/volunteer, email volunteer@redcross.ca, or call 1-844-818-2155.

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