He’s UM’s own hurricane hero

Stephen Heymann, a freshman at the university, was recently honored with the Points of Light Award, Florida’s highest award for volunteer service, by Gov. Jeb Bush for his outstanding achievements through his involvement with the American Red Cross.

“It was such an honor for him to receive the award on behalf of the Red Cross and the Youth Corps for all the work in the hurricane recovery process,” Diana Heymann, Stephen’s mother and director of Youth Corps, said.

“I wasn’t trying to get any type of recognition or award, I was just doing what I thought was right,” Stephen said. “To be awarded like that was amazing.”

The younger Heymann’s involvement with the Red Cross began 14 years ago, when he and his family, who were then living in Miami, lost their home in the destruction of Hurricane Andrew, one of the largest storms in recorded hurricane history. In the wake of the storm, the Heymanns received excessive support and assistance from the American Red Cross.

Several years later, Stephen attended a Red Cross-sponsored youth leadership conference at Emory University in Atlanta. When he returned, he called up his local Red Cross chapter, eager to get involved.

“I knew I wanted to get involved because Hurricane Andrew destroyed my house when I lived in Miami, and the Red Cross helped us out a lot,” Stephen said. “I wanted to help out because they helped me out when I was younger.”

At the time, there was no way for youths to get involved with the Red Cross. According to Stephen, he was put in contact with volunteer Bill Sullivan, who was interested in putting together a program for young people.

“Together we started the Red Cross Youth Corps and worked on getting kids involved,” he said.

It’s through the Youth Corps that Stephen accumulated 1,200 hours of service, dedicating time to helping his community where it needed him most, from hurricane relief efforts to educating the public.

When the string of hurricanes hit South Florida in 2004 and 2005, Stephen was quick to pitch in.

“During the hurricanes, there was a lot of flooding and on many occasions we got the utility trucks out there and helped the victims get food and water. We picked up trash and things like that,” he said.

In the wake of Hurricane Wilma, Stephen, already a freshman at UM, returned to his old neighborhood in Key Biscayne and helped his former neighbors clean up their yards.

“He was very aware of what it felt like [to be a hurricane victim], what you go through, and that empathy really inspired him to get involved and help,” Donna Dunio, senior director of Resource Development for the Red Cross Southwest Florida Chapter, said.

For their hurricane relief efforts, Stephen and the Southwest Florida Chapter Youth Corps were designated hurricane heroes.

Through his involvement with the Youth Corps, Stephen has both witnessed and accomplished many things, but what is his most memorable experience?

“Just to see how thankful people were,” he said. “We would be out there giving just a simple box lunch and people were so happy and so grateful that we were taking the time to help them out. It made me feel good because they were so grateful for it.”

For more information on how you can get involved with the Red Cross, visit their website at www.redcross.org/index.html.

Christine Dominguez can be contacted at c.dominguez3@umiami.edu.