La Jolla resident jumped in to help others


Karla Stuart, inspired by local workers after wildfires, helps Ike victims

Like many Americans, La Jolla resident Karla Stuart watched the news as Hurricane Ike, the biggest storm of the 2008 hurricane season, barreled across the Atlantic Ocean.

While people reached deep into their pockets to donate to Hurricane Ike’s victims, Stuart did much more. One day after the hurricane reached land in Galveston, Texas on Sept. 13, Stuart was on her way to Texas, part of a team of trained American Red Cross volunteers ready to help victims displaced by the storm.

Inspired by the work of Red Cross volunteers during last year’s San Diego County wildfires, Stuart enrolled in classes during the summer to become a disaster relief worker.

Accelerated training

Before the hurricane, she and 30 other volunteers from San Diego and Imperial counties began classes offered by the Red Cross’ San Diego chapter; but when Hurricane Ike began its destructive path toward the U.S., Stuart and her fellow trainees had not completed their courses. Over the next week, she joined a Red Cross “boot camp,” offered to speed training of relief workers to areas impacted by the hurricane.

San Diego volunteers were deployed to emergency shelters in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi; and to the organization’s national headquarters in Washington, D.C. For the first eight days, Stuart worked at shelters in Tyler and Jacksonville, Texas, then transferred to Galveston to work in a tent city housing 800 people.

Though the hurricane had passed, Galveston sustained extensive flooding and damages. The entire island had been evacuated, and when residents returned, they could not immediately return to their homes and were housed at the shelter.

‘A little tough’

Stuart said she had many duties, including registering families, distributing supplies and being available to listen to people’s concerns. Residents were worried about their loved ones, their belongings and their homes.

“It was challenging and rewarding,” Stuart said. “It’s just amazing what the Red Cross does.” She returned home on Oct. 5. “The first couple of days back home were a little tough,” she said, “but I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

“I could not be more proud of her,” said her husband, Mark, who writes the Light’s wine column. “I remember when the opportunity came, and there wasn’t really any thought about it. She just decided to go. If we have the opportunity to help people in need, we should go.”

For information about volunteering for or donating to the American Red Cross, go to

or call (858) 309-1261.