For Disaster Action Team member Darlene Horak, it was like stepping out of the frying pan into the fire. Within 48 hours of returning home to Texas after managing a shelter for California flood victims, she redeployed in response to assist tornado victims in her own state.

More than 800 American Red Cross volunteers responded to nearly a month of severe weather in California. Horak, a retired pre-school teacher from Harlingen, Texas, was returning home after two weeks of managing a shelter for more than 80 people in Fresno when she learned of the devastating tornadoes that caused heavy damage and widespread power outages in the Houston area. By the time she reached home, Horak and a fellow volunteer Blanca Gonzalez had pretty much decided that they were going right back into the field to help their fellow Texans.

 “We literally looked at each other and said, ‘Okay, we can turn this around quick and go,’” Horak said. And turn it around, they did. Within two days of returning home from California, Horak was managing a shelter for 45 clients at the Revive Church in Pasadena. “We’re all doing our laundry and basically unpack, repack and hit the road,” she said.

Horak has been a DAT volunteer from the South Texas chapter for more than a decade. In that time, she has been involved in more than 30 deployments.  When she was still teaching, her Red Cross volunteering was largely limited to the summer months.  But once she retired, the Red Cross became her year-round mission.

“My heart goes out to these people, because they’re in a dark place and not sure of what to do,” she said. “They need reassurance. They need that guidance. If I can give them a little bit of compassion and let them know we’re here for you, then I feel like I am blessing them a bit.”

“In my, heart, I’m a firm believer in the phrase ‘pay it forward,’” Horak added.

Her belief was reinforced a couple of years ago when she found herself on the client side of a disaster response. When the local power grid failed because of severe cold and an ice storm, Darlene’s home was without power for five days. Instead of joining with other volunteers in coming to the aid of storm victims, this time it was the Red Cross coming to her aid.

 “I asked my DPM (Disaster Program Manager) and DPS (Disaster Program Specialist) what do they needed me to do, and they said, ‘No ma’am, we’re going to help you,’” Horak said. “They brought me a case of water. It just brought tears to my eyes. It was just a case of water, but it meant the world to me.”

It was very clear that Darlene holds the Red Cross close to her heart. Ironically, concerns about own heart health threatened to ground her from future deployments. But after a series of test and consultations with cardiac specialists, she has been given a clean bill of health.

“My doctor literally told my daughter, ‘Don’t take Red Cross away from her,’” she said. The doctor went on to say, “That’s what’s keeping her active. That’s what’s keeping her going.”

“Now that I am retired, I love helping families that have been displaced,” she said. “I love to plant that little seed in their head to say, ‘this is what you need to do’ and step-by-step eventually see them back on their feet.”

To volunteer like Darlene and help your local community, go to

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides comfort to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; distributes international humanitarian aid; and supports veterans, military members and their families. The Red Cross is a nonprofit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to deliver its mission. For more information about volunteering or contributing to the Red Cross’s mission, please call 1-800-RED-CROSS, visit or, or follow us on Twitter at @RedCross.

Story By David Guth