MSU Professor Travels to West Coast to Assist with Wildfire Relief

Dedicated to Volunteering, Assistant Professor Julie Beaty Deploys with the American Red Cross to Support Fire-Ravaged Communities

Smoke from the record-setting wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington engulfed so much of the nation in September, it could be viewed in the Michigan sky. The scope of the wildfires led the American Red Cross to deploy disaster relief volunteers to the West Coast, including Assistant Professor Julie Beaty.

Beaty, who works in MSU’s Department of Advertising + Public Relations, is traveling to Portland, Oregon, for two weeks to assist residents who have been injured or displaced by the wildfires. Her role at the American Red Cross is just one stint in a long history of volunteerism, and it involves serving twice a month to support those who suffer from unexpected disasters.

Typically, Beaty’s service would find her responding to local house fires in Detroit or other incidents that occur in a region of lower Michigan. But the widespread devastation caused by hurricanes, wildfires, and the outbreak of COVID-19 has prompted organizations to deploy disaster relief response teams across the U.S.

“With everything being hit at once, there’s not enough volunteers across the country to be able to man the disaster relief efforts,” said Beaty. “Just in Oregon, 500,000 people are displaced from their homes. Ten percent of the entire state’s population is now displaced because of the fires.”

Answering the Call for Disaster Relief

As an American Red Cross volunteer, Beaty visits people after housefires in lower Michigan to determine whether a structure is safe to live in. Her efforts often include helping people to reenter their home for needed items; finding shelter, food and clothing; and connecting those in need to community services, such as financial aid or mental health support.

“We register people into shelters, making sure that the food is sent out and they have supplies,” said Beaty. Her efforts to help with local disaster relief range from checking off points of structural integrity on a clipboard and delivering supplies, to providing emotional support for people who are facing disaster. “I’ve been to houses that are still smoldering, where we can’t even find the occupant or where they’re still in the hospital. We try to locate the individual and make sure they know we’re here for them.”

Often, Beaty said local residents will struggle to recover lost items from inside a house, including their purses, wallets and identification. She also encounters people while they are simply trying to cope with the reality of a disaster, whether it means overcoming the danger to their own lives, the enormity of losing their home, or the sudden loss of a loved one.

“The most challenging part is the personal devastation you see — how people are still in shock, and they’re still trying to process it,” said Beaty. “When you’re in that situation, you can quickly become overwhelmed and you can freeze. You just need to focus on the task at hand. Be present. Be a resource for those who are suffering.”

Not only is the support helpful to those in dire need, Beaty said, but it also gives volunteers a sense of purpose. Often, the people she works with are humbled by the generosity they’ve been given, and they find ways to pay it forward.

“They’re always so grateful that someone is there,” said Beaty. “Remember that giving back – the feeling of giving – that has value.”

In the West, her volunteer efforts will center mainly on helping people find safe refuge in shelters.

Volunteering as a Way of Life

An active volunteer since high school, Beaty is motivated by her desire to help those without a voice or those without a home. Over the years, she has volunteered for food shelters, community hospitals, animal welfare, safety for battered women, and frontline activism, among other causes. She even helped to build houses in Tijuana, Mexico.

A successful advertising executive, Beaty has also volunteered her time and talents in professional networks. Her career experience has included running advertising or brand partnerships for BET, Viacom, NBC Universal Media, and iHeartMedia. She has taught at several colleges and served on public boards, including the West Bloomfield Board of Education and the Board of the Lighthouse of Oakland County in Michigan.

Now, she pays it forward, sharing her success with MSU students through mentorship. In collaboration with Advertising + Public Relations Chair and Professor Teresa Mastin, Ph.D., Beaty founded the Women in Advertising and Communications Mentorship Program (WAC) at ComArtSci. The program connects women who are studying advertising to one-on-one mentors working in the industry, giving students opportunities to secure networking, job shadows and internships.

“Students frequently comment on how they appreciate Julie’s professional experience and her passion for sharing her knowledge, her firsthand experience, and her network with them,” said Dr. Mastin.

Even as she sets out for the West Coast, Beaty will continue to offer virtual instruction to her students. Her advertising courses at MSU will go on during the global pandemic, while she steps up to help people recover from the challenges facing the nation. With the support of the university, college and department, Beaty will continue to deliver her online courses and she will use a Wi-Fi Hotspot to log on and check in on her students.

“I’d like to thank the university and the college for allowing me to volunteer my time for disaster relief and supporting me in this endeavor,” said Beaty.

She expressed special appreciation for Dr. Mastin, who has worked with her to ensure she can continue to teach while answering the call.

“Julie’s selfless commitment to the Red Cross and those it serves is one more example of her modeling the important service component of professionalism,” said Mastin. “Her actions also highlight a value-added resource available to students when departments are comprised of traditional faculty and professors of practice.”

‘One Starfish at a Time’

With an eye on the next generation of volunteers, Beaty said it’s never too early to start giving of your time and talents. Since she began volunteering in high school, she has never stopped. Instead, she has taken on causes with more weight over time.

“A lot of times, we feel blocked from volunteering, because there’s so much that needs to be done in the world,” said Beaty. “It’s an overwhelming feeling, and right now, we are not in control over a lot of things in our lives.”

That doesn’t deter Beaty from trying to make a difference.

She finds inspiration in the popular story of the starfish – where a girl walks along the beach and throws each stranded starfish back into the water, one at a time. The story illustrates how one person can make a difference in the world, even if they start by helping only one individual.

“If you think about everything that needs to be fixed at the same time, you’ll never be able to move forward,” she said.

She encouraged those who volunteer to keep the big picture in mind, while staying focused on the situation at hand.

“Find something you’re passionate about and take it to a local level. Tuck it down into a doable size, and then, it feels like we are capable of making change in the world,” said Beaty. “One starfish at a time!”

By Melissa Priebe

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