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Red Cross volunteer Shane Bell inspires with commitment to helping people in crisis

Red Cross volunteer Shane Bell inspires with commitment to helping people in crisis

The Bob Cornell Award isn’t something that is given out every year.

“We will give it when it is needed and when it is earned,” said Tracy Austin, executive director of the Permian Basin Chapter of the American Red Cross.

A consummate local volunteer, the late Bob Cornell developed lifelong lung damage after volunteering for the Red Cross in New York City in the wake of 9/11. He never complained and continued to serve as a dedicated volunteer for the organization.

“And the thing that I remember the most about Bob, he was in this 80s and he would come into my office and say, ‘I am ready to deploy,’” Austin said.

Cornell’s commitment to the Red Cross is difficult to match. But when an award in his name was created early this year, the Red Cross already had a deserving candidate in mind.

“Of course Shane Bell is the first person in my mind that needed to get it,” Austin said. “He has done that level.”

Bell, who has volunteered for the local Red Cross for more than 30 years — holding every position in the organization from disaster scene responder to trainer of responders — became the first recipient of the Bob Cornell Award in April this year.

Like Cornell, Bell’s commitment to the Red Cross knows little bounds, said Austin. Whether he’s working at his day job managing the facility soft services for a Major Oil Company in Midland, or partaking in his passion for gaming and organizing gaming tournaments, Bell finds ways to promote and support the critical work of the Red Cross.

“He is always committed, always thinking about Red Cross, about how he can help the organization and the people and clients we help.”

This past July, a Super Smash Bros. event Bell organized at the Bush Convention Center raised $1,600 for the organization. In just a few days, Bell is inviting the Permian Basin’s gamers to take part in Rescue Royale, during which they can use their favorite platform during October to raise funds for Red Cross disaster relief efforts. Bell hopes to raise $10,000 next month.

Of course, Bell provides the Red Cross with far more than fundraising support. He often invests enough of his personal time with the organization to make it a second full-time job. Two years ago, he spent his hard-earned Christmas vacation supporting victims in tornado-ravaged Kentucky. After that response, Austin nominated Bell for one of the Permian Basin’s highest honors for service — The Judge Pat Baskin Family Volunteer of the Year Award at the Nonprofit Management Center’s Beacon Awards.

Bell was humbled to receive the coveted award in November 2022. But winning the Bob Cornell Award held a particularly special place in his heart. In fact, the normally mild-mannered, unflappable Bell was in tears when the Red Cross presented him with the honor.

“I didn’t know at the time that Bob had mentored Shane,” said Austin. “Bob was Shane’s first contact in this chapter. Took him under his wing, showed him everything he needed to know to get started. It came full circle.”

Bell is a West Texas native who served in the U.S. Navy before developing a career in information technology. He first encountered the local Red Cross when he helped clean its garage as part of a fellow Eagle Scout’s project. Sarah Boering, then the chapter’s Director of Disaster Services, learned Bell lived only a block away. She proposed that the teenager, who was 13 or 14 years old at the time, come help out after school.

“She started having me clean up after CPR classes, put away files, things like that,” Bell said. “She introduced me to working in disasters. I started training and learning everything the Red Cross does when a disaster happens.”

In high school, Bell began responding to house fires, the most common disaster that the Red Cross addresses. He’s continued responding to disaster scenes on and off for the last three decades, including the 2019 mass shooting spree in Odessa and Midland.

“He holds a role in every level of the organization, because he applies all of this talent in an effort to benefit our mission,” Austin said. “And our mission is really simple: To alleviate human suffering and to motivate the generosity of our donors.”

Bell is clearly dedicated to that mission. Don’t try asking him to brag about himself, as this reporter unsuccessfully attempted. Any question surrounding his accomplishments becomes an opportunity for Bell to preach about the importance of the Red Cross’ services.

“We meet people on the worst day of their lives and give them a ray of hope,” said Bell, referencing the Red Cross volunteers who respond to disaster scenes. “When we get there, the fire department is still at the scene, and the fire still may be going. And you walk up to the family who is in shock as they watch their home and life burn down. Just the thought of family pictures and all that history being lost. And you’re there to comfort them and let them know someone is there to help.”

Photo courtesy of the Red Cross.

Bell said his Red Cross team provides individualized support, identifying shelter, food and clothing and other needs to get them through the first 48 hours. A team of caseworkers follows up to help individuals and families on their recovery plan, from working with pharmacies to replace medications to connections with agencies that help people find stable housing or organizations that help repair homes or appliances, he said.

“I do it because they need someone to be there for them,” Bell said.

Bell points out that large disasters like hurricanes and tornados draw large responses from multiple well-resourced agencies, like FEMA. But when it comes to a house fire, there isn’t that level of response, and yet the people impacted are often just as devastated.

So Bell, in his mid-40s, said he doesn’t plan to stop being there for victims any time soon. And that’s a good thing, because people aren’t volunteering as much as they were in the 1990s, a problem that only worsened since the COVID pandemic.

“Some people have hung up their vests,” Bell said. “It’s not just Red Cross but all of the organizations.”

Bell encourages more residents of the Permian Basin to consider volunteering for the Red Cross. He points out that they don’t have to put in 30 to 40 hours per week like he does, nor do they need to donate funds (although donations are always welcome).

“It’s only a few hours per week, especially if they are not a disaster team responder,” Bell said, noting that volunteers can help with projects that include installing smoke alarm in houses for free twice per year.

Online training has lifted a barrier to entry for volunteers, he added.

For Bell, an award or an article is never as important as finding ways to get more help to people in need. And that, says Austin, is a big reason why he is the first – and only for a long while – recipient of the Bob Cornell Award.

“He is always committed,” Austin said, “always thinking about Red Cross, about how he can help the organization and the people and clients we help.”

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