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18-year-old Red Cross volunteer on fire to make a difference

Posted at 2:30 PM, Jan 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-27 19:01:47-05

\KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- Benjamin Smith is fresh out of high school, but he already has quite a bit of real-life experience, helping out in major disaster zones.

The Paw Paw graduate decided to join the American Red Cross in September, after Hurricane Harvey struck Texas.

"I kind of got this feeling in my stomach that I really wanted to do something to help people," Smith told FOX 17 News. "When I got there, the floodwaters had mainly receded. My job was to take care of the basic needs of clients in the shelter."

Smith spent 21 days in Beaumont, Texas, often working around the clock.

"You see everyone's belongings piled up on the side of the road, then it kind of hits you, that everything they've worked for is gone," he said."You get a whole other look at life... You don't have time to think about yourself, your job is to care for those people."

Within days of returning home, Smith was given the chance to head to another disaster zone.

"I was offered the opportunity to re-deploy to California, to work at the shelter for the efforts against the wildfires," he explained. "It was a whole different form of overwhelming."

Smith ended up working in a shelter, just miles away from the dangerous wildfires.

"It looked like it was snowing. It was ash from the wildfires, and it was at that moment that you notice, it's either the winds blowing really strong, or we're really close to the fire...It was too fast paced to be scared."

Like his time in Texas, Smith decided to once again extend his deployment, spending 19 days in California. A typical deployment is around two weeks.

"Seldom do we get someone, fresh out of high school, that comes to the Red Cross, and says, I want to volunteer," said Ed Halcomb, Deputy Disaster Program Manager for the Red Cross. "We frequently refer to the millennials as not being motivated. He is the antithesis of that comment. He's driven, compassionate...I'm impressed that a man of his age, and his quality, has come to the Red Cross."

Smith is also helping with Red Cross blood drives and assisting families after house fires. He spends five days a week volunteering, also serving as the Commander of the Disabled Veterans Auxiliary, and serving the group Veterans Helping Veterans.

It seems like a lot of work, but Smith said helping others, is helping him cope with his battle with depression.

"My depression makes me lethargic. It makes me not want to get out of bed," he said. "My depression seems to subside when I help somebody. If I can make somebody's day better, it's going to make me feel better. Helping people gives me a sense of immense moral satisfaction, and that's why I do what I do."

To learn more about the Red Cross, or to volunteer, click here.

As the Pay it Forward Person of the Month, Smith is receiving a $300 dollar prize.

Know someone who should be featured next month? Nominate them here.

Meet Brandon Otto, the December 2017 Pay it Forward Person of the Month.