BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - This week hundreds of Red Cross staff and volunteers are learning that disaster response includes a lot more than providing emergency food and shelter, but also showing compassion and respect for everyone. The Red Cross is holding a training seminar in Bay St. Louis, and one of the workshops deals with cultural diversity.
Glenda Perryman lives in George County. During a Red Cross seminar, she talked about an experience where she was deployed to another area to volunteer at a disaster shelter.
"I was the only black, and it was a lot of whites," said Perryman. "The shelter was full of blacks. During that time, the experience I had was awful. "
Glenda Perryman says after the racism she saw, she was determined to never volunteer for the organization again. Now Perryman says she's had a change of heart.
"When I came to this class and seen that Red Cross do care," said Perryman. "That they do know about the situation, and they are doing something about it. I was very, very blessed and very grateful."
An instructor told the group, "No matter what color they are, no matter what nationality they are, whether they are undocumented or not. No matter what, every single person is to be treated exactly the same."
The Red Cross's diversity seminar taught how part of caring for people dealing with disaster is being an active listener.
Tonna Brock of Shreveport, LA, said, "Your body language tells a lot. If you're listening to someone or you're talking to someone, you're not turned away acting like you're going to do something else."
"Make sure they have your full attention and that you are listening to every word. You are concerned about what is affecting them."
Participants, who came from Red Cross chapters across Mississippi and Louisiana, say they want to take what they learn here to make a difference in their communities.
"We can go back and teach the people that it's not about your color," said Glenda Perryman. "It's about getting to know the people before you judge them on the color of their skin. It's wrong and you have to have a heart and Red Cross has a heart and I'm proud to be a Red Cross volunteer."
About 250 people are taking part in the disaster training which also includes seminars on running a disaster kitchen, shelter management and mental health.
One of the guest speakers was Mark Smith, senior director of the Red Cross's Hurricane Recovery Program. He's worked disaster relief in many regions including Africa. He told Red Cross workers about the importance of giving and receiving hope.
"I've just been all over the world. Bosnia and places where war is everywhere but I'm an optimist,"
"They say how are you so optimistic. I say again, it comes back to hope. I believe that through hope and through the goodness within everybody, we are making this world a little bit better. "