Student serves her community

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Josh Wilks

Published: January 21 2004

She’s the first to admit she’s a talker.  But the talent of effectively communicating with all kinds of people has led PJC student and alumnae Rosalynn Bates down the path to places she never thought she’d go.

In her tiny cubicle in the Milton Community Center on Byrom Street, Bates is helping people help themselves.  As she fixes her eyes on a computer screen, Bates, a single mother, performs her duties as an Americorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America). 

After earning an A.S. degree in Healthcare Service Management from PJC in 1996, Bates is attending PJC again.  According to Bates, it was at PJC in 1995, when she was the SGA president on the Milton campus and secretary of Phi Theta Kappa, that she discovered her talent of public speaking and her desire to serve her community. 

Currently, Bates, who was profiled as Who’s Who in Junior Colleges in 1996, is working on a bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Management from Southern Illinois University on NAS Pensacola, while attending PJC, and working as a mitigation specialist for the Northwest Florida Chapter of the American Red Cross.  As a mitigation specialist, Bates’ job includes a boundless bag of duties.

“Part of what I do is reducing the effect of disasters on a community – naturally or manmade – in an effort to prevent that amount of damage economically and life-wise with programs like disaster preparedness, CPR, first aid, basic evacuating, and fund-raising,” says Bates. 

As a VISTA volunteer, Bates is contracted to volunteer full-time for the Red Cross, while attending college part-time.  In return, Americorps gives her grant money to go to school, minimum healthcare benefits, and a monthly living allowance. 

Before she decided to enter the VISTA program, she had already been volunteering with the Red Cross, so she decided she would like to stay full-time when she joined. 

Bates says that an Americorps member’s service addresses community needs in one of four areas: education, public safety, human services and the environment.

While she’s been at the Red Cross, Bates has gained skills and taken numerous training courses, and is now not only trained to do mitigation with the Red Cross on a local and national level, but is a certified disaster preparedness instructor.

She was first activated in the national mitigation program for the Tennessee tornadoes more than a year ago.  There, the Red Cross advocated the use of NOAA Weather Radio (NWR).  NWR broadcasts National Weather Service warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information 24 hours a day, something that could prevent life-threatening damage.

“Unlike Florida, where we have a couple days’ notice for hurricanes, tornadoes can hit within minutes, and that area is prone to unpredictable tornadoes,” says Bates.  “We also advocated for residents to have homeowner’s insurance, renter’s insurance, and to know what to do before and after the storm.”

According to Bates, mitigation isn’t new to the Red Cross, but has become a must-serve in recent years, and it’s important to advocate it daily, even as a volunteer.

Bates is a member of the state hazard mitigation planning team, representing the Red Cross.  Most recently, she was involved in mitigation when Hurricane Isabelle hit the state of Virginia.  It not only affected Virginia, but also the surrounding coastal areas.

There, Bates trained community volunteers to prepare for storms.  According to Bates, being from Florida, a state that is well prepared for natural disaster, and is always pushing to be better prepared, helped in training the communities she was visiting. 

Mitigation isn’t all that she does, though.  Currently, Bates has been working on a grant for Santa Rosa County’s division of Communities In Schools, an after school program for at-risk middle school students.  As an executive board member of Communities In Schools, Bates is working to improve the lives of the underprivileged students – just what the mission of the Americorps VISTA program advocates.

But it wasn’t until the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, that Bates went to inquire on volunteer opportunities at the American Red Cross.  Later that morning, the terrorist attacks that made that day one of the most memorable days in American history, took place. 

However, it wasn’t until a year later that Bates entered volunteer service full-time, and she’s been doing it ever since.

Bates doesn’t plan to stop once her interim period at the Red Cross is over. 

“Even after I finish my bachelor’s degree, I plan on working in this field,” Bates says. “I love what I do, I really do. I love people, and it makes this job perfect for me.”

Ironically, Bates points out, when she enlisted in the Navy in 1992, her first assignment was to participate in disaster relief of Hurricane Andrew in South Florida.  Little did she know, she would be doing basically the same thing more than 10 years later as a civilian.

Although her life seems to be going great, it has never been effortless for Bates to achieve what she’s set her mind to doing.  Life’s obstacles, and other challenges have sometimes blocked the road for her, but she’s managed to overcome them, and somehow keeps going. 

Bates says she draws her strength from her nine-year-old son, and her faith.  And regardless of the obstacles that she may continue to face, Bates says that her life can be summed up in one word – blessed. 

Giving back to the community that has given so much to her, Bates says, is what she wants to do with her life.  Growing up with her stepfather in the military, Bates has been all over the world, and never really had a place to call home.

“I’ve traveled everywhere,” says Bates, “and I have to think of Milton as my home now.  It’s a friendly place and they’re very accepting, very helpful. You don’t get that everywhere.  It’s a great place to raise my kid.  It grows on you.”

Some might say that Bates is the definition of the volunteer, giving back to her community that has given her and her son the good feeling of calling it home.  She knows that she’s making a difference, and that, to her, makes all her hard work worthwhile.