Mark Mowrey is a retired nurse and spends much of his time with the American Red Cross plying his skills as a Disaster Health Services volunteer.
When disaster struck Mark’s community in southern Humboldt County this week, Mark donned his Red Cross vest and sprung to action.
Shortly after Mark arrived at the shelter, a woman had registered for assistance who was visibly distraught. As Mark observed her talking with the shelter staff, he could see that she was becoming overwhelmed with worry so he did exactly what he did with his patients in his former job as a nurse. He sat down with her and asked her to tell her story.
The 6.4-magnitude earthquake had shaken a pipe free from her water heater and had started to leak water all over her basement. For some, this might be a minor inconvenience and a quick fix, but for a disaster evacuee, there are myriad invisible compounding stressors that can make even the smallest problems seem daunting.
“I’ve done it many times in the ER and in the Red Cross,” Mark said. “Asking people to tell their story relieves some of that pressure that they are feeling. It allows them to vent, to process, and to problem solve.”
The woman was able to start at the beginning and tell Mark about all the factors, large and small, that were contributing to her stress. It all culminated to a broken water heater that she hadn’t the slightest idea how to fix.
“She told me what kind of water heater she had, so I was able to help her figure out what part she needed, and gave her directions to a local hardware store.”
Armed with a plan and a clear path forward, the evacuee’s spirits were visibly raised as she set out from the shelter.
“That’s what I love about being a nurse and what I love being a Red Cross volunteer,” Mark said. “I love helping people find a pathway to help solve their problems. It feels good to help someone else tackle that overwhelming dilemma so they can take back that sense of control and, well, take a shower!”
Deidra Cazneaux’s deployment with the California Gold Country Region of the American Red Cross to the McKinney Fire was her first, but it wasn’t obvious.
The McKinney Fire in Siskiyou County displaced some 2,000 residents in late July. That’s when Cazneaux looked straight into the face of the disaster and went right to work.
“I just walked into the shelter kitchen and took over,” she said.
In her days at the shelter, Cazneaux always did her job with a smile, chatting with each evacuee and even advocating for them to ensure partner agencies who provided meals were offering nutritious options.
Shelter manager Bill Hart described Cazneaux, saying, “Deidra is an incredibly positive force in the face of controlled chaos.”
In recognition of her work at the shelter and her positive attitude while on the job, Cazneaux was presented with a Red Cross Disaster Cycle Services challenge coin.
“It’s always been in my heart to serve people,” Cazeneaux said, adding: “It’s an avenue for me to be who God wants me to be.”
Volunteer Carolee White has taken 75% of all the Disaster Action Team calls we have had in the Amador/Calaveras/Tuolumne territory, either in person or virtual.
She has had some very difficult calls that required extensive research and calling of different agencies to validate a call and damage to help a client. I can recall a few calls that it took her almost three days of continuous work to be able to validate the call and to verify residency since all the client’s belongings were destroyed in the fire.
She has handled so many unique calls and issues with intake and has worked through them to make sure the client or clients were provided services that they needed.
Carolee is always caring and compassionate to the clients and her co-workers. We are so fortunate to have her on our team, and many clients have expressed how grateful they were for all that she did for them.
Did you know that Carolee had wanted to play with abstract painting for over 30 years, and when she finally realized that she could actually sell her artwork, Carolee decided that that would be a nice way to work part-time? She’s now been painting for just over one year and has been having a blast creating beautiful and colorful artwork.
Blood Donor Ambassadors welcome donors to blood drives and provide friendly support before and after they give. This can include helping donors to register, answering their questions, and assisting them at the refreshments table. Hear firsthand why others have volunteered in this role. Training is free, but the support you provide is priceless. Make a difference by joining the American Red Cross to collect lifesaving blood to those in need.
Disaster Cycle Services
Disaster Action Team – Every day, people are forced from their homes due to fires, storms, or other disasters. Our Disaster Action Team volunteers respond day and night to meet the immediate needs of their neighbors. Our help may include financial assistance for food, clothing, and lodging; emotional support; or replacing prescription medications and other critical items. Learn more about this role. Training is free, but the hope you provide is priceless.
Recovery Caseworkers – Dedicated teams of American Red Cross volunteers continue to step up to address the deep and diverse needs of our communities. Recovery Caseworkers provide follow-up and recovery planning services, including referrals, for individuals and households affected by local and regional events – primarily home fires.
Disaster Responders – Feeding & Sheltering – Every year, thousands of families are affected by wildfires in Northern California. Volunteering for the American Red Cross gives you a way to directly impact these families by providing meals, shelter, and hope. Register to volunteer today so you can complete training before it’s needed. Your volunteer support is critical. Let’s help. We can’t do it without you.
Disaster Health Services – Disaster Health Services teams address the unmet disaster-related health needs of impacted individuals, families, and communities. They provide hands on care within a RN-led model, assistance with replacement of medication, durable medical equipment, glasses, dentures and other medical supplies, and support individuals with disabilities and functional and access needs. Current unencumbered license required for RN, APRN, DO, EMT, LVN/LPN, NP, Paramedic, MD, and PA.
Service to the Armed Forces
Resiliency Facilitators – The Red Cross continues its work with the military plus community helping families strengthen their resilience to stressors they encounter during their loved one’s deployment. We believe ensuring that family members are prepared and trained to cope with stresses and challenges that may arise without the support of their spouse or loved one helps our deployed service members focus on their mission. A current and unencumbered license with master’s level or above mental health degree is required.
Volunteer Services – Screener– Many Red Cross volunteers serve in support roles working behind the scenes. Screening Team members seek to understand what brought prospective volunteers to the Red Cross, their areas of interest and what position they would find most meaningful. This is a great opportunity to develop administrative and interviewing skills. Learn more about this role.
I’ll never forget the little guy looking up at me and with almost tears in his eyes, looking first to his father for approval and then back at me (after his father had nodded OK) to accept the Mickey Mouse doll that I had offered.
The little guy looked back at me, now with tears in his eyes and mouthed, “Thank you.”
I almost lost it. Even today, that memory impacts me every time I think about that family and their kids.
It was a dark, cold and windy night in January. The single-family home was at the top of the property and it was still burning when our Disaster Action Team arrived.
The family (mother, father and two small children) were huddled on the wet grass in front of their home. A neighbor sat nearby with some paintings and photographs that he was trying to dry off and salvage after they were removed from the home.
That event took place over eight years ago. I hope those kids remain warm and safe. I still think about them and wonder how they are doing. I think that I always will.
There was not much for us to do until the family started thinking about their recovery. The two kids were about three and five years old. Because of their age, they were not really able to comprehend the gravity of the situation. Their home was being destroyed. The only thing that they really understood was that their toys were “gone.”
If you are interested in volunteering with your local Red Cross Disaster Action Team, click here.
You can also support the Red Cross by making a financial contribution or supporting our BASH virtual auction and event later this month.
Bill Hart has the kind of voice that makes you feel like everything is going to be OK. This is ideal for a man in his position—Spiritual Care Lead for the American Red Cross Gold Country Region as we provide comfort and care to people displaced by the wildfires in northern California.
He has filled the Disaster Spiritual Care (DSC) role for the Gold Country Region of the Red Cross since September 2016. “Spiritual care is one part of a three-legged stool, along with mental health and health services. Together we form individual disaster care. We try to look at the mind, body and soul and provide care to all of those areas.”
Bill has been very active responding to the fires and earthquakes that happen across California, notably spending 89 days working on the Camp Fire response and currently providing support to disaster relief operations in northern areas of the state. “Wildfire response has become kind of a specialty,” he said. “In a wildfire, when everything is burnt down to ashes, recovery can feel insurmountable. We want them to start telling their story and moving towards hope.”
Bill’s path into the Red Cross is a windy one. After a couple of personal losses involving a family member in hospice, Bill recognized that primary care givers do not often get much support as they are losing loved ones. Finding a group that provides exactly that kind of care led Bill to become a hospital chaplain, and from there a chaplain that serves the armed forces. A Methodist minister, he met a Red Cross spiritual care volunteer through a mutual pastor friend who asked if he might be interested in volunteering as a Red Cross spiritual care provider.
A local to northern California, Bill lives in a small town in the Sierra Mountains about halfway between Sacramento and Reno. He has been ready to evacuate himself in years past, especially when the Bear River canyon was on fire within a few miles of his home. “It got pretty exciting for a while. They managed to keep it contained to the canyon, but we were all loaded up and watching it carefully,” he recalled.
The American Red Cross Spiritual Care team is trained to recognize the signs that someone may need assistance. They will look for someone who might be hoarding snacks at the shelters, or who is turning their cot area into their home. Agitation, pacing, isolation, anger, crying are also key indicators they watch for. “To do this job, you have to be ready for people to swear and yell at you and blame you for all their problems, and let them know we’re still there for them. But it’s really about getting to know the client. At the beginning of the operation we’re looking for the obvious signs. But then we get to know people and see how their moods may change. And people will come find us.”
Building relationships underpinned by trust is key to making a positive impact on people who have evacuated their homes. “Spiritual Care is in the shelters all day, every day. We don’t wait for people to come to us. We’re out in the shelters and spend mealtimes with people, or recreation time, and we’re constantly circulating around the grounds and other areas where people might be gathering, like the laundromat. And we start to get to know people, so they recognize us and we start building trust.”
A key time to be present with people is when they make the first trip back to their home after a wildfire. Bill says that people often stay in a shelter because they can’t go back home because there’s nothing left. “They often have a little spark of hope that somehow their house was spared, and that spark doesn’t go out until they’re standing in the middle of the ashes of their house.”
One case that really stands out to Bill is that of a ninety-two-year-old man standing in the middle of his driveway, surrounded by the remains of his home after a catastrophic wildfire. He had moved into that house four years previously with his wife who then passed away from cancer. Having outlived his spouse and children and then losing his home to a wildfire, he worried that there would be nothing on earth left to prove he had ever existed.
With fires burning regularly across the state, Bill has seen some of the same faces in Red Cross shelters after different evacuations. “I encountered numerous individuals who have repeatedly evacuated the last couple of years, and several that have just about finished with rebuilding. Some know they’ve lost their new homes. I’ve remembered some, some remember me, all remember the Red Cross was there when they needed us. One man I met in Redding the other day was pretty sure he’d lost his home again but stopped by [the shelter] to try to make a cash donation to help others*.”
As important as physical comfort often is in spiritual care, COVID-19 precautions have made it nearly impossible to provide a shoulder to lean on, a hug, or a hand to hold. “People will reach towards us to be hugged, and it’s very difficult to say no because we’ve worked to get them to open up. We don’t want to maintain social distancing. We want to be there to hold your hand and be a shoulder. But we just have to keep everyone safe.” Bill explained that for a while the spiritual care team tried to work over the phone, but it was just not as effective as face to face. The connection between volunteer and evacuee is much more robust when they are in-person.
Most importantly for Bill is that people affected by disasters don’t let the word ‘spiritual’ keep them from seeking care. “We’re not the religious group that people might think of. We’re there for everybody. If it’s not something that we can help with, we find someone who can. We’re just there to inspire hope.”
*We are incredibly grateful to members of the public whose generosity and impulse to help lead them to attempt making cash donations. To ensure financial transparency and responsible use of the donor dollar, we cannot accept cash donations and ask that all donations be made online at redcross.org/donate or by texting REDCROSS to 90999.
Congratulations to Gold Country Regional Deployment Program Lead Liz Ford for winning the Spirit of the Pacific Award!
Liz was nominated by Disaster Workforce Engagement Program Manager Christine Yoo who recognized her for acting with a sense of purpose, having a passion for service and a willingness to go above and beyond.
All Red Cross team members are encouraged to work together and personify a set of cultural values and behaviors that exemplify these Pacific Division ideals. The Spirit of the Pacific Award is specifically designed to acknowledge and reward these
outstanding efforts on the part of employees and volunteers.
The award was created in 2016. This is the second time a Gold Country Region volunteer has won!
Take a look at Liz’s nomination:
As the Regional Deployment Program Lead, Liz has played an integral role in the successful development of our regional deployment team and has been actively engaged in recruiting and training every member from the very beginning!
Her vision and commitment to develop a volunteer-led and sustained program has greatly enhanced our region’s ability to provide our volunteers with more opportunities for deployment to disasters all across the country by ensuring that a dedicated volunteer member of our team is on duty each day to monitor the open positions as they are requested by the relief operations (7 days a week, 365 days a year).
She will often take on extra days if no other team members are available and even offers to do this while she is away on vacation or traveling across country! Not only that, she also enthusiastically took on the challenge for the deployment team to conduct debrief calls with each and every disaster responder that deployed during fall 2018 (and there were several hundred!).
From when it was first brought up, she was already on the same page with feeling that this is something we needed to start doing and promptly proceeded to devise a plan, communicate with the team to get everyone on board with the plan, and executed the daunting task – a true reflection of her dedication and passion for our volunteers’ experiences on deployments to be a positive one.
Liz has also continued to step up time and again when those disasters have occurred in our very own backyard, taking on leadership roles in Staff Services in the chaos of the initial phases of standing up an operation to support our workers as they serve our impacted communities and she often stays on for weeks until the job is done. Not only during disasters but throughout the year, she is committed to building our regional cadre of trained Staff Services volunteers and gladly makes herself available to instruct the Staff Services Fundamentals course all over our region!
Liz is someone that we count on to step in when the unforeseeable happens, as with last July’s institute, when both the volunteer and paid staff lead for the event were unexpectedly taken out of commission days before the event. She graciously stepped in to pick up the reigns and provide coordination on site at the event, along with the other members of the planning team, to ensure that the event proceeded as planned.
Having the privilege of getting to work with Liz in all these roles has truly been a joy and honor – I couldn’t imagine where we’d be or what I’d do without her!
Congratulations, Liz! Thank you for all you do for the American Red Cross.
Tammy Artola had not anticipated needing the American Red Cross’ assistance when she headed up to Truckee with her family for some time away. She was with her daughter and grandson while her daughter’s boyfriend had stayed home to work.
At 2 a.m. she got a call that the mobile home on their 15 acres was on fire and that the flames were heading toward their home.
She remembers two members of the Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) who were called in to help. They comforted the family and helped with what was needed in alleviating the stress of all that was going on.
In the weeks that followed, they sorted through losing the mobile home, a workshop and many valuables. Tammy’s daughter and her family struggled to figure out where to go and how to process it all and ended up moving to Alabama in order to be near her boyfriend’s family. Their departure was incredibly hard on Tammy and she struggled with not being near her family.
Tammy was depressed for several weeks after her family left, and realized that she needed to add something to her life. She wanted to give back to those who might be in need and decided to call one of the DAT responders who had helped them through their ordeal.
Tammy has been a Red Cross Volunteer for a year now. She has received training in sheltering and is now a member of her local DAT team. In addition, she has gotten involved with Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces and has taken on a lead role in her local Sound the Alarm campaign.
One of the hardest parts of volunteering for Tammy is that she struggles with letting go after helping a client. She says she wants to follow up and provide as much care as possible, often wondering about the people she’s helped long after assistance is provided.
She experienced this on her first DAT call after helping a gentleman who experienced a fire at his mobile home. She recalled that it was a bit unsettling a first, not being sure of what to expect as she traveled into the park on a single access road. The gentleman was waiting for her team at the home of his landlord.
Tammy spent much of the time listening to him talk and providing a needed distraction from all that was going on. They were able to call a nurse to help with the man’s needs and found transportation to get him started on the next steps.
Tammy stated that she wished they could have done more and still wonders how he is doing from time to time.
Through the process of volunteering, Tammy feels that she has learned better listening skills, how to be prepared, and has gleaned so much from the volunteers around her.
Tammy says she enjoys volunteering for the Red Cross because it makes her feel good helping others and it reminds her of how lucky she is. She would encourage those who are thinking about volunteering to attend a local meeting to meet other volunteers and ask questions.
Even though a lot of training is involved, Tammy advised new volunteers to stick it out because it is so worth it.