Red Cross Volunteer Helps his Town Recover

Red Cross volunteer Andy Grossman talks with Weed resident Karly Gregory at the site where her home once stood.

Red Cross volunteer Andy Grossman talks with Weed resident Karly Gregory at the site where her home once stood.

By CARL MANNING, American Red Cross Volunteer

Ask Andy Grossman why he’s an American Red Cross volunteer and his answer is simple – he really enjoys helping people.

It’s a philosophy that’s been a major part of his life, not only as a Red Cross volunteer in Weed, California, but also as pastor of the Abundant Life Church of the Nazarene in nearby Mount Shasta and as chaplain for the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department and the City of Weed.  And if that isn’t enough, he’s just had a book of poetry published.

Andy became involved with the Red Cross three years ago after contacting the organization about getting his church established as a shelter and saw that he and the Red Cross shared a common goal.

“They are in the business of helping people and their goal is to relieve the hardships of people,” Andy said. “Our hearts are in the same place for that.”

In many ways, he’s the Red Cross’ go-to person in this community at the base of Mount Shasta where he has lived for the past decade.

“Andy Grossman is a typical Red Cross volunteer in that he wears a lot of hats. He’s on a Disaster Action Team, he helps at shelters, facilitates meetings…he rarely turns an assignment down and is a valuable asset,” said Eric Kiltz, Red Cross Disaster Program Manager for Siskiyou and surrounding counties.

When the Boles Fire erupted in this small town, Andy was home. As the fire consumed nearby neighborhoods – ultimately destroying or damaging 162 homes – Andy made his way to Mount Shasta to open a Red Cross shelter at the high school for the evacuated residents.

Two days later, Andy was part of the Red Cross team assessing the extent of damage to the residences in the community.

“I felt sadness for a lot of them because of losing everything, but also was very relieved that there was no loss of life,” he said.

Andy speaks with Weed resident Tony Porter as he sifts through the remains of his home.

Andy speaks with Weed resident Tony Porter as he sifts through the remains of his home.

On a recent afternoon, Andy donned his Red Cross vest and revisited the area where he earlier had surveyed the damage. This time, however, he was checking on people rather than properties.

He stopped at the remains of Karly Gregory’s home and they quietly talked for a few minutes about how she fled her home as the fire grew closer and how she was thankful nobody in her family was injured.

Down the street, Andy visited with Tony Porter as he hauled away the debris that once was his two-story home. They talked about their common love for motorcycles and how Tony lost his in the fire but was glad that it was insured.

Asked why he was checking things out, Andy said with a smile, “Just trying to help people in need.”

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Boles Fire Takes Family’s Home, but not their Spirit

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Red Cross Volunteer Debbie Nicholau and Weed resident Tiffany Duhon visit Tiffany’s home following the Boles Fire.

By CARL MANNING, American Red Cross volunteer

Despite losing her home and everything in it to the Boles Fire, Tiffany Duhon still wants to live in Weed, California with her five children. With some help from the American Red Cross, it looks like she will.

Tiffany and her family settled into Weed four years ago and she began taking college classes with the goal of becoming a lawyer. Over the years she and her family have become part of the community, active in church and school activities.

“I fell in love with this town. It’s so nice and quiet and that’s what I want. This is a perfect place for my children,” said Tiffany whose children include a 14-year-old daughter and four sons, ages 11, 10, 9 and 6.

Tiffany said she got a helping hand in finding place to live from Red Cross volunteer Debbie Nicholau from the American Red Cross Northeastern California Chapter.

But Debbie is quick to say there also were other Red Cross volunteers working with her in following up on a tip they had received about a house being available.

“It wasn’t just me; we’re a team for all of this,” Debbie said.

Debbie helps Tiffany search through the ashes for any belongings.

Debbie helps Tiffany search through the ashes for any belongings.

Recalling the fire, Tiffany said she was on her way home from running errands when she saw the smoke.  She returned home and grabbed her children’s birth certificates, a child’s stuffed bunny and her phone charger, figuring she would be coming back.

She picked up her children and some of their friends at their schools, helped reunite them with their families and turned her attention to her children.

Tiffany and her children found their way to a Red Cross shelter where they stayed for several days.  At the shelter she saw a video of her home burning but refused to be depressed although she admitted that the full impact has yet to hit her.

“I lost everything but the way I’m looking at it is that my babies are still alive and that’s all that matters,” she said. “Everything else can be replaced.”

With Debbie at her side, Tiffany returned to her home that’s now ashes, burned wood and a few scorched or burned personal items. She was amazed that somebody – maybe firefighters – retrieved a few items and lined them up on a beam for her.

“I’m so thankful…they went through all that and they probably didn’t even know me,” Tiffany said.

As they looked at the scene, Debbie and Tiffany hugged and the two reached out and took each other’s hands as they walked past the debris.

tiffany3Tiffany realizes there will challenges ahead as she goes through the long term recovery, but she said her faith will get her through.

“This is the most peace I’ve had in my life because God has us and we’ll be OK,” she said. “On the path of life, you have rocks and this is just a big boulder.”

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Help and Healing in Weed

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Red Cross volunteer, Connie Hoffer, speaks with a resident displaced by the Boles Fire

By CARL MANNING, American Red Cross Volunteer

When wildfire victims in the northern California mountain community of Weed come to the American Red Cross seeking help, one of the first people they likely will meet is volunteer Connie Hoffer, who has seen her share of devastating fires.

A volunteer from Littleton, Colorado for a nearly a decade, Connie has seen first hand several Colorado wildfires over the years and knows just how horrific a fast-burning, widespread fire can be.

Nestled at the base of Mount Shasta, Weed is a small community of barely 3,000 people. When the Boles Fire erupted on September 15, it quickly consumed 287 acres, destroying or damaging 162 homes. For this small community, it’s a loss that will never be forgotten.

“This will affect people for years to come, not only in the dramatic ways like losing your home and everything you had, but in more subtle changes like kids not being able to ride their bikes on their neighborhood street past familiar surroundings,” says Connie. “To see everything you had suddenly gone…that’s hard.”

For Connie, like the dozen other Red Cross volunteers helping residents at the Local Assistance Center in Weed, it’s about helping people in their most desperate hours after everything they owned is no more.

The Local Assistance Center is like one-stop shopping for those needing help. In one location there is the Red Cross plus organizations like the Salvation Army and Southern Baptists, along with state and county agencies providing assistance with such things as replacing vital records or vehicle registrations.

The Red Cross has been offering immediate assistance such as food, clothing, temporary shelter and counseling, replacing medications and eye glasses and providing access to cell phones, computers and charging stations. It also has been helping with long term needs that could include such things as helping people relocate and providing household items such as bedding.

“It’s great to be able to offer them some kind of new beginning in their life,” said Connie, a retired registered nurse.

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Red Cross volunteer Connie Hoffer (R) talks to Kadie Renninger, a Weed resident who is helping her neighbors affected by the Boles Fire.

But it’s not just those hit hard by the fire that Connie talks to — there are those in the community who want to help, like Kadie Renninger who dropped by to talk to Connie about how to get involved.

Kadie said she is one of the lucky ones – her home wasn’t  among those destroyed, but she opened her home to a family who did lose everything. She has also been volunteering as a greeter at the LAC entrance, directing people to where they need to go.

“I feel so grateful that I wanted to do something to give back,” Kadie said.

Connie says she tries to offer some measure of comfort to those who come to her for help. She recalls how, as a child, she saw her grandmother’s house burn. One of the items discarded at that fire was a cactus plant that Connie retrieved and kept over the years.

“It’s still thriving,” she said with a smile.

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Red Cross Volunteer Pays it Forward

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Volunteer, Kari Guthrie, gets the kitchen ready for residents at the King Fire shelter in El Dorado County.

It was an all too familiar sight to Kari Guthrie as she saw smoke start to rise up over the hills near her home in Mosquito, California. It was the early beginning of the King Fire, a blaze in El Dorado County which has grown to over 82,000 acres across the drought-ravaged landscape since it first started on September 13.

It was only a month ago when a similar scenario unfolded nearby when Kari was spurred to take action. Another fire, the Sand Fire, was burning down the road and threatening communities. The news reported that the Red Cross had opened a shelter for evacuated residents and Kari decided it was a chance to help those in need.

“I had taken culinary courses and even owned my own bakery, so I thought that may be a way I could help,” says Kari.

She was right! Kari was soon put to work organizing the kitchen and helping to prepare food for evacuees. For four days, Kari led the kitchen staff at the Red Cross shelter, delivering dozens of meals and helping residents endure the uncertainty of the ongoing fire.

When the smoke cleared, Kari decided that helping others through the Red Cross was what she wanted to do. But she wasn’t doing it alone.

“We had a great team of about 30 people in that kitchen, and when it was over we all decided to take Red Cross classes and train as official Red Cross volunteers!”

Now, as the smoke from the King Fire began to quickly tower over the small communities in El Dorado County, Kari received the call. An evacuation shelter was opening in nearby Pollock Pines and her help was needed.

“I was excited to respond because this was my first disaster as a Red Cross volunteer and I was looking forward to putting my training to work.”

At the Pollock Pines Community Center, volunteers and residents began to arrive. Everyone was mesmerized by the rapidly expanding cloud of smoke and endless swarm of helicopters and firefighting planes overhead trying to corral the flames. It was quickly apparent that this was not going to be an easy fight.

As Kari joined with other volunteers to begin coordinating the Red Cross response, her phone rang. The fire was growing quickly and had placed many communities in danger, including her own.

“I had been at the shelter for less than an hour when I received a call that my own home was under a mandatory evacuation! I only had a few minutes to get home and grab a few things.”

Kari returned to her house, picked up her family, dogs, cat, and a few important items and returned to the evacuation shelter…this time as an evacuee.

Kari's daughter, Kayla and grandson Carson, help to stock the kitchen.

Kari’s daughter, Kayla and grandson Carson, help to stock the kitchen.

“It was so scary. I didn’t really know what to do or what was going to happen, but I had all of the important things with me so that helped a lot.”

Throughout the afternoon news reports filtered in, the plume rose in full view of the shelter, and more residents arrived. Seeing her community once again in need of help, Kari made a choice.

“Everyone needed help, and that’s why I became a volunteer. So I took my family down the road to stay with friends and I returned to the shelter to do the work I set out to do.”

Since that moment, Kari has been hard at work leading a feeding operation that has served hundreds of meals to residents as they patiently wait for the opportunity to return to their homes. All this while she remains evacuated and awaits word on the fate of her own home and community.

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Kari’s son-in-law, Kelly, helps to set up cots at the King Fire shelter.

Her selflessness seems to be a family trait as she has since been joined by her daughter, son-in-law, and two young grandsons, all of whom are pitching in to help in any way they can. Son-in-law Kelly served in Iraq and has used his experience to help set up cots, while daughter Kayla and grandson Carson help out in the kitchen!

When asked why she decided to volunteer, her answer is simple: “to pay it forward.”

“This community means the world to me. When my family was touched by tragedy, the community rallied around and showed us so much love and support. If I am able to give back even a little bit of that compassion, then that’s what I am going to do. The Red Cross has provided the perfect opportunity to do just that.”

As of September 21, the King Fire has expanded to more than 82,000 acres and is only 10 percent contained. Though evacuations remain in place, Kari’s home remains safe.

Thank you for your service, Kari!

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American Red Cross Offers Resources for Residents Impacted by Boles Fire

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Capital Region CEO, Kathleen Weis, surveys Boles Fire damage with CAL FIRE.

~Local Assistance Center now open in Weed~

The American Red Cross has opened a Local Assistance Center for residents impacted by the Boles Fire in the City of Weed. Located at the College of the Siskiyous, 800 College Ave in Weed, Red Cross volunteers will be on-site daily from 10am – 7pm* to meet with impacted residents and provide disaster assistance.

For information about Red Cross services available at the LAC, residents may call (925) 588-6843.

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Coordinating resources at the Local Assistance Center with disaster relief partners.

Additionally, Red Cross volunteers are out in the affected communities of Weed providing food and clean up supplies for residents as they return to their properties and begin their recovery process.

A Red Cross shelter remains open at the National Guard Armory, 618 Everitt Memorial Highway, in Mount Shasta for residents in need. Volunteers are available and providing food, safe shelter, and attending to any immediate emergency needs.

Please follow @RedCrossNECal for updates on supply distribution and additional Red Cross services in response to the Boles Fire.

King Fire (El Dorado County)

Red Cross volunteers continue to operate an evacuation shelter at the Seventh Day Adventist Church at 3520 Carson Rd in the town of Camino for residents impacted by the King Fire.

Volunteers are on site to provide residents with safe shelter, food, and meet any immediate emergency needs. The Red Cross will remain at these shelter facilities until it is determined that residents may safely return to their communities.

As of September 20, the Red Cross has closed an evacuation center which had been located at the South Lake Tahoe Recreation and Swimming Pool Complex in South Lake Tahoe.

Please follow @RedCrossCRC for regular updates on Red Cross response to the King Fire.

Red Cross volunteers have provided nearly 250 overnight shelter stays and served more than 1,000 meals for the communities affected by the Boles and King Fires.

The Red Cross continues to work alongside state and local officials to coordinate the emergency response effort for both incidents. Red Cross response continues to be coordinated out of the Disaster Operations Center at the Capital Region’s Sacramento headquarters. Red Cross representatives are also on-site at the California State Operations Center in Mather, CA, as well as Emergency Operations Centers in both El Dorado and Siskiyou Counties.

RESPONSE INFORMATION ONLINE:

For updates on the Red Cross response, connect with the Capital Region online. On Twitter, follow @RedCrossCRC and @RedCrossNECal. On Facebook, ‘like’ us at www.facebook.com/RedCrossCRC and www.facebook.com/RedCrossNEC.

HOW TO HELP

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Boles Fire shelter manager, Pat Day, chats with two shelter residents.

Since July 1, there has only been an 18-hour period of time during which there hasn’t been at least one wildfire evacuation shelter open in our Capital Region. The ability of the Red Cross to respond to these frequent emergencies whenever and wherever they occur is made possible only through the power of Red Cross volunteers and the generosity of donors.

Donate

Help people affected by disasters like wildfires in California and countless other crises by making a gift to American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

For those interested in donating specifically to the long-term rebuilding and recovery needs of residents in Weed affected by the Boles Fire, please visit the Shasta Regional Community Foundation website at http://www.shastarcf.org/

Volunteer

The Red Cross has enough volunteers for this response at this time. However, if you would like to be trained as a Red Cross disaster volunteer to respond to future disasters, sign up at www.redcross.org/volunteer

As a reminder, the Red Cross can NOT accept donations of items such as food and clothing at our evacuation shelters and other facilities so we ask that people please refrain from doing so.

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American Red Cross Responds to Northern California Wildfires

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View of the King Fire in El Dorado County from the Red Cross evacuation shelter.

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Wednesday, September 17, 2014 – Wildfire season is in full swing and the American Red Cross Capital Region is hard at work supporting communities affected by continuing, drought-fueled blazes throughout our 24-county territory.

American Red Cross Capital Region volunteers are hard at work assisting residents impacted by two large wildfires – the Boles Fire in the City of Weed (Siskiyou County) and the King Fire (El Dorado County). Since Sunday, the Red Cross has operated three shelters, providing overnight stays for more than 200 residents and serving hundreds of meals to the affected communities.

Helicopter makes a water drop on the Boles Fire in Weed, CA

Helicopter makes a water drop on the Boles Fire in Weed, CA

Boles Fire*

Volunteers are operating an evacuation shelter at the National Guard Armory – 618 Everitt Memorial Highway – in Mt Shasta to care for residents impacted by this devastating fire in the City of Weed. Volunteers are providing safe shelter, food, and meeting the immediate emergency needs of affected residents.

Volunteers will soon begin the process of “bulk distribution”, providing clean up supplies for residents as they begin returning to their properties. When it is safe to do so, volunteers will work with community members to assess damages and determine any assistance needed for the recovery process.

The Boles Fire began and spread quickly on Monday, September 15, burning nearly 400 acres and damaging/destroying more than 150 homes in the small community of Weed, located near the base of Mount Shasta.

King Fire

Red Cross volunteers continue to operate an evacuation shelter at the Seventh Day Adventist Church – 3520 Carson Rd – in the nearby town of Camino. The Red Cross continues to provide safe shelter, meals, and a meeting place for community members as firefighters continue their work to gain control on the blaze.

Since it began on Saturday, the King Fire has grown to more than 18,000 acres with limited containment.

Pollock Pines is located in El Dorado County approximately 45 miles west of Lake Tahoe.

HOW TO HELP

Donate

Help people affected by disasters like wildfires in California and countless other crises by making a gift to American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

* For those interested in donating specifically to the long-term rebuilding and recovery needs of residents in Weed affected by the Boles Fire, please visit the Shasta Regional Community Foundation website at http://www.shastarcf.org/

Volunteer

The Red Cross has enough volunteers for this response at this time. However, if you would like to be trained as a Red Cross disaster volunteer to respond to future disasters, sign up at www.redcross.org/volunteer

As a reminder, the Red Cross is unable to accept donations of items such as food and clothing at our evacuation shelters and other facilities.

RESPONSE INFORMATION ONLINE:

For updates on the Red Cross response, connect with the Capital Region online. On Twitter, follow @RedCrossCRC and @RedCrossNECal. On Facebook, ‘like’ us at www.facebook.com/RedCrossCRC and www.facebook.com/RedCrossNEC.

WILDFIRE SAFETY

Wildfires are an ongoing threat in our 24-county Capital Region, and the severe drought conditions throughout the state only enhance our risks. While we may not be able to predict when and where a disaster may occur, we can take steps to reduce the risk and impact of an emergency such as a wildfire.

How to Prepare for a Wildfire

  • Post emergency phone numbers by every phone in your home.
  • Make sure driveway entrances and your house number or address are clearly marked.
  • Select building materials and plants that resist fire.
  • Regularly clean roofs and gutters.
  • Assemble or replenish family emergency kits

Plan ahead and stay as safe as possible during a wildfire

  • Plan and practice two ways out of your neighborhood in case your primary route is blocked.
  • Select a place for family members to meet outside your neighborhood in case you cannot get home or need to evacuate.
  • Identify someone who is out of the area to contact if local phone lines are not working.

More information on wildfire safety is available on the preparedness section of www.redcross.org.

DOWNLOAD WILDFIRE APP Another thing people should do is download the free Red Cross Wildfire App, available in English or Spanish. The app, found in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for Android by searching for American Red Cross, includes features like the “Blaze Tracker” which can be customized to alert someone to fires where they live, travel or have loved ones.

The Wildlfire App also includes:

  • “Blaze Warnings” which let users see areas where NOAA has issued warnings that conditions are favorable for potential wildfires.
  • “Blaze Alerts” which inform users when a wildfire has begun within 100 miles of any locations monitored.
  • “Blaze Path” from Inciweb.org which provides users with a current view of an existing wildfire’s perimeter, how it has spread and the fire’s current location when available.
  • One touch “I’m safe” messaging that allows users to broadcast reassurance to family and friends via social media outlets, text or email that they are out of harm’s way.
  • Locations of open Red Cross shelters.
  • Simple steps and checklists people can use to create a family emergency plan.
  • Toolkit with flashlight, strobe light and audible alarm.

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation’s blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. The Capital Region serves a twenty-four county territory including Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, El Dorado, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne, Yolo, and Yuba counties. For more information, visit www.redcross.org/capitalregion or follow us on Twitter @RedCrossCRC.

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Saving the Day with Placer County Disaster Action Team

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Placer DAT volunteers Bob Eger (L), Fran Kehoe, and Heath Wakelee

Written by Heath Wakelee, Red Cross Volunteer and Placer DAT Lead

Yesterday morning at 6:10 AM, my phone rang. I’d just finished a big breakfast in preparation for a hike that was now not going to happen. It was [Red Cross volunteer] Bob Eger asking if I could respond to a fire in Auburn with nine adults needing assistance.

“Sure,” I said.

There were at least three reasons I was ready to roll – 1) Because I was on-call and had made a commitment to help when and where needed, 2) There were nine people who had just lost everything and needed help, and 3) My friend and hiking partner for the day will soon be a Placer County Search and Rescue member, so he understands the call to respond takes priority over other plans.

Bob Eger asked me how many Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteers I wanted and I said at least two, perhaps three.  Bob wisely recommended four or perhaps more. We agreed on four. Bob then called [Red Cross Disaster Program Manager] Tami Martin to recruit volunteers as I headed to the scene. Tami quickly called me and said she had the four volunteers and recommended that I have one more.

I agreed, though I was slightly concerned that there may not be enough work for all of these volunteers so eager to help out. But Tami and Bob, being the seasoned experts that they are, had a good idea of what to expect with an incident this size. I was grateful for their wisdom and advice as we needed each and every volunteer that turned up.

The fire impacted five townhouse units. Two units were severely damaged and three units had minor fire but heavy smoke damage. Nine adults were left homeless by the fire. Utilities were turned off, so while some may not have lost their homes completely, they were still left with no place to go…at least temporarily.

Among the needs, one man worked nights and he needed to get into a hotel/motel to sleep ASAP. Another woman had two cats, and she feared they had suffered from smoke inhalation.

Three of the volunteers had never been on a DAT call before, and one only had a single call under their belt.

A neighbor was kind enough allowed us to use her wi-fi so that we could begin the process of authorizing what we call “Client Assistance Cards”. These are cards we provide to displaced residents so that they may obtain items such as food, clothing, and other essentials following a disaster. I had arrived at the scene with six CAC’s, but it quickly became clear I would likely need nine or ten.

No sooner had that thought occurred when Tami and volunteer Jeremiah arrived with additional cards AND an extra computer to help expedite the CAC authorization process. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief knowing that our team would be able to meet the needs of these residents without delay. We are truly fortunate to have such good thinkers and great volunteers.

As usual, all of our volunteers worked very well as a team. The new members had a lot of good questions and, with everyone’s help, we were able to comfort and guide nine people through a very challenging and traumatic event. The gentleman who needed to sleep was handled first and we called a local Veterinarian (Dr. Rice) who agreed to examine the distressed cats for free. We ended up providing five motel rooms, food, clothing, comfort kits, street sheets and a few hugs. For this event it did take seven volunteers to serve our clients and I’m sure glad that we had so many responders.

While the hike that I missed would have been good physical exercise, the DAT response was better both physically and mentally. I made the right choice.

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