Helping those in need following Hurricane Harvey helped Rebecca Chitwood find purpose.
The 51-year-old, who moved to Federal Way in June, recently returned from her second eight-day deployment to Houston with Team Rubicon, a nonprofit organization that uses the skills and experiences of military veterans alongside first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams.
“Sometimes when you leave the military, you lose your sense of purpose,” Chitwood said. “This allows for them to use their skills but gets their sense of purpose back.”
Chitwood, who served in the United States Marine Corps for two years in the 1980s, was trying to find herself again after raising three children, ages 28, 22 and almost 18.
“I was struggling with the fact my kids are grown now,” she said. “The first thing they said when we arrived (in Houston) was everyone has a purpose here.”
Chitwood connected with Team Rubicon through the Starbucks Armed Force Network, an internal veterans group at Starbucks headquarters, where she works as a fraud investigator.
Just before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in late August, members of Team Rubicon visited Starbucks headquarters in Seattle.
“They call the volunteers gray shirts since we wear gray shirts,” Chitwood said. “It’s kind of our uniform. I talked to a couple of gray shirts.”
With a background in homeland security, Chitwood decided volunteering for the organization would be a good fit.
Chitwood, along with other 20 other volunteers from Starbucks, left for Houston on Sept. 30 and spent the week cleaning out homes ravaged by flooding.
Team Rubicon provides its services at no charge through donations. Many of those they helped in Houston were young, low-income families.
“That is the most rewarding thing, when they ask, ‘how much is it going to cost me?’ and you say ‘nothing,’ and they just hug you,” Chitwood said.
Eight days wasn’t long enough to help in Houston, Chitwood said, and she knew when she arrived home she wanted to go back. Her desire to return deepened when she learned the neighborhood where she had lived in Santa Rosa, California, before moving to the Seattle area a year and half ago, was devastated by wildfires.
“Both my old next-door neighbors still lived there and lost everything,” she said. “I felt really hopeless.”
She expressed interest in going to help Team Rubicon’s response in California but was told, for now, they are only deploying local teams.
A few days later, Chitwood left for her second trip to Houston.
“I was really glad I went back,” she said. “I couldn’t focus here.”
Two Marines, Jake Wood and William McNulty, started Team Rubicon in 2010 in response to the earthquake in Haiti.
Team Rubicon volunteers don’t have to be veterans. Chitwood said on her first deployment, about 70 percent of the volunteers were civilians. Her second trip had more military or former military personnel.
Chitwood encourages anyone with free time to get involved with Team Rubicon.
“You don’t have to do physical work,” she said. “There is a job for everyone.”
Chitwood plans to take part in future missions with Team Rubicon and volunteer with regional trainings.
For more information about Team Rubicon, visit teamrubiconusa.org.
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