By Kathy Huston
The recent hard-hitting hurricanes (most notably, Florence and Michael) brought out many heroes to help with relief and recovery efforts. Here, two of them who have recently returned from deployment, reflect on their service and the satisfaction it brings them.
Jared Isaacs learned about volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross during an outdoor festival about six years ago and has been volunteering with Disaster Assistance Teams (DAT) ever since. “I was a volunteer firefighter and EMT for many years and stopped doing it when I moved to a new area. As soon as I heard (that with the Red Cross) you can go to big fires and not have to roll the hose up afterwards, I decided to join,” he jokes.
Isaacs’ most recent deployment was to Chapel Hill and Lumberton, NC for about 10 days, working in two different shelters with the Health Services Team. “While there we cared for those with medical emergencies and those with chronic health conditions,” he says. “Some of our time was spent coordinating with outside agencies and other health-care professionals.”
He recalls a man staying at one shelter who had complex medical and mental health issues. “He had no family or friends to support him. We were able to find an outside caseworker from another agency who had recently been assigned to him. That caseworker met with him on several occasions and will support him long after the Red Cross leaves,” he says.
Isaacs also lent an attentive ear as a single parent relayed her frustration trying to find housing for her and her son. “She couldn’t even get an appointment with any of the local housing agencies,” he says. “We talked about how she could advocate for herself and her family. On my last day, she came over and was so excited to tell me she was able to get an appointment with a housing counselor. For her, just being able to get the appointment was a huge win.
“When someone is affected by a disaster, the fire department shows up to do the rescue, EMS is there to handle their injuries and the police will take care of any criminal justice issues. The Red Cross is the only agency that is there to listen and offer support just by being there,” he says. “I’m always amazed by the kindness and compassion offered by our volunteers.”
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Friday Center – Red Cross Shelter. Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Photo by: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross
Cathy Jensen was living in Germany in 2000. The apartment building next door housed American Red Cross volunteers. “I saw, and experienced as an Army wife, all the good they were bringing into the world. I then committed to volunteer with ARC once my life provided me the time,” she says. “That time came in July 2014. I have been volunteering ever since.”
On September 17, Jensen deployed to North Carolina, serving as the Disaster Spiritual Care (DSC) lead in the Durham headquarters, supervising five DSC teams and providing disaster spiritual care to those working in headquarters. On October 17, she deployed to the Red Cross Disaster Operations Center near Washington, DC, providing support to the Disaster Spiritual Care leaders in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia.
Jensen supervised the DSC teams on the ground and was intent on meeting the DSC needs of the staff caring for the clients, whatever their role might be. “All those serving clients risk finding themselves spiritually and emotionally depleted at times,” she notes. “To me, caring for the care providers is paramount in achieving the positive outcomes for our clients. I believe we cannot provide 100% to our clients if we ourselves are not 100% whole.”
Disaster Spiritual Care providers are there to listen to the stories people want to tell, and to help them find their hope and strength to move forward into their recovery. “I enjoy being part of the best humanitarian organization in the world,” Jensen says, echoing Isaacs’ sentiments. “When people see American Red Cross, they see relief, they feel hope … relief from their suffering, and hope for their future. This is why I volunteer, to bring relief from suffering and hope into lives devastated by disasters.”
If you are interested in volunteering in any of these roles, please visit https://www.redcross.org/local/pennsylvania/eastern-pennsylvania/volunteer.html