Ken Ayers was in his 50s when he began volunteering with the American Red Cross.
The Brooklyn Park native initially got involved with the Anne Arundel Fire Department's Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, a group of volunteers trained in disaster response. Then in 2009, the Red Cross offered the group training in setting up and overseeing shelters.
Ayers jumped at the offer and was soon "bit by the American Red Cross bug," he said.
He joined that year, responding to house fires and other emergencies in southern Maryland with the Red Cross' Disaster Action Team, or DAT. In 2011, he served his first deployment to a disaster zone when he traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, to assist in recovery efforts after a series of tornadoes swept through the South and Midwest.
His initial Red Cross training came in handy. One of his responsibilities was to assist in the opening of a shelter in Tuscaloosa, he said.
"It allowed me to build a greater sense of self-worth," Ayers said of the experiences with the Red Cross. "Knowing that you're there for people in their time of greatest need, the reward is great just knowing that."
On Friday, Ayers, 58, once again headed to a disaster zone. He traveled to Louisiana which was devastated by flooding over the past week, leaving 13 people dead and tens of thousands of homes destroyed.
Ayers is one of 22 volunteers from the Greater Chesapeake Region who have traveled to Louisiana since Monday to assist in recovery efforts. The Red Cross is expecting to send around 1,500 volunteers from across the country to the region in the coming months, said Jason Marshall, executive director of the Red Cross of Southern Maryland.
The national nonprofit is anticipating spending about $30 million on recovery efforts there, Marshall said.
The Red Cross has about 230 volunteers in Anne Arundel, the chapter's executive director said.