Written by Richard Woodruff, American Red Cross
Kathy Catania has been a Red Cross volunteer for 10 years signing on right after Katrina. Her first deployment was to Biloxi Mississippi and it started a path of service that today has brought her to Northern California and the small town of San Andreas the Calaveras county seat near the hardest hit areas of the Butte Fire. That is where the Red Cross Client Assistance Center is and that is where we found her on the phone checking up on one of her clients.
As we quietly sat and talked there were a few people coming and going behind us needing assistance. They were greeted at the door often with a hug and a bottled water as they made their way into the private cubicles. One-on-one the caseworkers would sit down discuss their situation and provide or direct them with or direct them to what they needed for their unique situation.
For Kathy this particular assignment is a bit of a homecoming because although she currently lives in San Diego, she used to live in nearby Sonora and in fact still owns a home there. The Butte Fire hit her especially hard because she almost lost her own home during a previous wildfire. The fear and uncertainty of that situation gives her special empathy for the people of Calaveras county. After being evacuated (many to Red Cross shelters) most had no idea whether or not their homes had even survived. It took several days for the firefighters to go back up into this the burn areas to begin to document what homes had been destroyed. She knows first hand what that feels like.
Since the client assistance center started operating on September 19th, Red Cross volunteer caseworkers have opened over 375 cases and the work is just getting underway. The road to recovery is a long one and the Red Cross will be here as long as it takes.
Kathy says even though coming back here has been bittersweet it has also been a very rewarding experience because says that she has been able to help her former neighbors. She says “These are very close knit communities that band together in times of need and I am glad to be part of that healing process.” For Kathy it is a case of coming home to where a part of her heart will always live.