From Disaster Victim to Rescuer: American Red Cross Volunteer Heeds Call to Serve

By: Whitney Howell
September 12, 2016

Julie Knobil

Points of Light Number: 
5825
Phildelphia, PA

Seven days before Sept. 11, 2001, a flood hit Houston, trapping many residents in their homes. Julie Knobil was one – but, instead of sitting by and waiting for help, she reached out to help others. From that day on, she’s been a consistent volunteer with the American Red Cross.

Throughout the past 15 years, she’s helped hundreds of people who’ve been impacted by floods, fires, and other disasters. She’s on call 24-7 because it’s important to be able to help others as quickly as possible, she said.

“As a volunteer, you really feel like you’re in a position to help people who really need it,” she said. “It makes you feel good to help others get on the road to recovery.”

Since beginning, Knobil has worked in client services, interviewing disaster victims immediately after an event. She finds out what they need and who might be best positioned to help them. For example, she connects people with the Salvation Army for shelter or with surrounding nurses and doctors for medical care. Throughout her volunteer career, she’s helped a woman obtain a replacement for a glass eye and helped a young mother receive new asthma equipment for her 3-year-old after losing it in a house fire. She also works with other Red Cross volunteers to provide mental health services when they’re needed.

On top of her on-call duties, Knobil volunteers her time to teach others how to design, build, staff, and run shelters that will house displaced individuals and families during times of disaster.

Recently, Knobil moved to Pennsylvania. She hasn’t yet resumed her Red Cross work, but she plans to do so soon. The impact she’s able to make on others during their times of need is vital, she said.

“You can’t do everything for people – in many cases, we can only refer them to services,” she said. “But, often, based on my interviews, people are visibly more relaxed once they’ve talked with me and have a plan. Many ask to give me hugs."