Intern finds his calling in helping other people

Kyle Erickson was searching for a career direction in 2011 when the Souris River spilled over its banks. Helping relatives evacuate ahead of the flood and watching the disaster unfold, his calling began to become clear.

Now a senior in emergency management at North Dakota State University in Fargo, Erickson is interning with the Mid-Dakota Chapter of the American Red Cross in Minot this summer.

Erickson said he remembered the work that the Red Cross had done during the flood and thought it might be a good fit for him when his college adviser mentioned the internship opportunity.

“In the back of my head, I thought the Red Cross would be a cool place to work,” he said. “I had been involved in nonprofits and understood how they worked.

He has been involved in 4-H and was a member of the state 4-H Ambassadors program until finishing his obligations this summer. Ambassadors promote 4-H through a variety of avenues, including helping during the State Fair and running a 4-H leadership conference in Fargo. With that involvement coming to an end, Erickson was eager to immerse himself in his Red Cross work.

“I have a bad habit. I like to be going in five different directions at once. Now that I can’t go in that direction,” he said of 4-H, “I need to find other ways to take up my time.”

A 2008 graduate of Max High School, Erickson was considering majoring in criminal justice before the flood occurred.

“That summer was really what pushed me to do emergency management because there were a lot of people that were having a hard time, and I am the type of person if I can help you, I am going to, because I just don’t like to see pain of any kind,” he said.

Switching gears from criminal justice to emergency management wasn’t a major shift in his mind, either.

“The way I explain emergency management is it’s criminal justice without the bad guy,” he said. “It’s always just going to be about helping people. That’s kind of what drew me toward this degree.”

He started with the Red Cross at the end of May and will be working at the office until the end of August. Among his tasks have been arranging for drivers and servers for the Rebuild Minot program, which takes the Red Cross emergency vehicle into flood recovery areas to provide food and snacks for homeowners and other workers.

He also has been scheduling volunteers to be on call in case of flood, fire or other emergency. He has been updating shelter agreements with communities in the region and attending emergency management meetings. He enjoys working with the public, and as his office duties wrap up, his hope is to get out in the field more. He was used to assisting in his family’s livestock operation and petting zoo and likes to be on the go.

“I don’t like sitting around,” said Erickson, whose statement might seem unusual to people used to seeing him in his wheelchair. He prefers to use his walker but said the wheelchair is useful at times in getting him to his destination faster.

Erickson, who has a form of cerebral palsy, doesn’t let his condition define him.

“I hate labels,” he said. “If you give what you have an identity, then you just give yourself an excuse.

“It’s just the way I am,” he added. “The last thing I ever wanted it to do is slow me down. The last thing I ever wanted was to have it keep me from being as much use in the world as I can be.”

He brings a perspective related to accessibility that others might not think about in disaster preparedness. He’s also been asked to assist at NDSU in assessing the accessibility of campus buildings, which he might get involved in once he returns in the fall.

The impression that Erickson is leaving on Red Cross staff and volunteers is one of enthusiasm and energy.

“Some people don’t know what to make of me when I am 100 percent energy all the way,” Erickson said. But he added, “What’s the use of getting up in the morning if you are not going to give 100 percent?”

Allan McGeough, Mid-Dakota Chapter director, said Erickson has filled a vital role at a time when the Red Cross has been without an emergency services director.

“He’s been a great help as far as coordinating anything with emergency services,” he said. “He’s taken the bull by the horns and he’s done everything we have asked him to do plus more.”

McGeough said scheduling, reminding and motivating people so that volunteers are on hand when needed can be a challenging job, but Erickson has been up to the task.

Erickson said his internship with the Red Cross has convinced him that he’s on the right career path. Although he’s still working on certain Red Cross certifications so he can respond to disasters, he can see the work being done and has concluded it is what he wants to do with the rest of his life.

“Up until now, I had doubts in my mind if I could actually do this and if I wanted to do this,” he said. “It’s been a learning experience, and it definitely has been fun. … For that experience alone, I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything. It’s really shown me that this is where I am supposed to be.”

(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or Managing Editor Kent Olson at 857-1939. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to mdnews@minotdailynews.com.)