Story by Red Cross contributor, Marco Bracamontes
If you’ve been on a disaster in the Texas Gulf Coast Region within the past thirty years, the name Tami Cowen might sound familiar. Leading more than twenty disaster response operations, Tami has made her mark as a Red Cross volunteer. It’s ironic that a disaster led her to help people affected by disaster.
Trained as a nurse, Tami gained experience in the emergency room, “I was exposed to the fast paced, rapid environment where you need to make decisions as you go,” she says.
Eventually she became chief nursing officer at hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley. “I like to create a vision and set the pace where we are going to go.”
A building collapse that left 17 dead in Brownsville, Texas in 1988 was the beginning of Tami’s engagement with the Red Cross. When she arrived on the scene of the devastation, she stared at a big pile of rubble and asked herself: What can I do? Where do I start? The call to serve came when a doctor turned to her and asked her to set up a clinic. So, she setup a clinic, established a partnership with the Red Cross and the rest is history.
“My mother used to tell me, sitting on your hands is not volunteering,” Tami recalls, and she has taken her advise seriously. With a lengthy series of leadership positions at the Red Cross, she has excelled in emergency response operations big and small.
Her formula for being a long-term Red Crosser is being able to identify the strengths of each team member and enjoying being part of their success. She finds invigorating “setting up a structure and delivering services from that,” she proudly states.
For Tami, mentoring plays a big role in leadership. “On a disaster assignment, mentoring means helping people achieve what they want to accomplish,” she says, “and I am looking for that opportunity for them to grow, I will back them all the way through.”
Having received many awards and recognition, Tami is honest when it comes to her real motivation: “I love being able to help people in need, it just speaks to my heart.”