In a week of heartbreaking tragedy in Boston, Massachusetts and West, Texas, neighbors have stepped up to participate in local American Red Cross volunteer trainings so that they can help their community in its hour of need. Each of these volunteers truly represents the heart of the Red Cross mission.
Providing Emotional Support for Boston Neighbors
“This one hit close to home. I used to live on the Marathon route,” said Cris Ratiner, a clinical psychologist who was one of 25 new volunteers from in and around the Boston area taking a Foundations of Disaster Mental Health class five days after the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15. “It’s awful that something like this could interrupt such a display of joyful humanity.”
“Years ago, there was a huge fire at my apartment, and the Red Cross was amazing, and later, I stayed at a Red Cross shelter after a hurricane forced us to evacuate.,” said Joyce Maguire Pavao, a psychologist and social worker. “So volunteering with them was always in the back of my mind.”
Maguire Pavao started the process of becoming a Red Cross Disaster Mental Health volunteer after watching the bombings on TV. “There was such trauma, and the invisible injuries don’t always get as much attention,” she said. “It’s very helpful to have people with our experience to help people get back to normal life.”
Trained Disaster Mental Health volunteers continue to provide emotional and spiritual support at the Family Assistance Center and various vigils and memorials across the Boston area. The dramatic events such as the marathon bombings are difficult for the entire community, and so shortly after completing their Red Cross training, a group of these new Disaster Mental Health volunteers walked through Boston Common to offer support for people there.
“One woman stopped to talk, and you could tell she was angry,” said new volunteer Mabel Lam, a clinical psychologist who serves as president of the Massachusetts Psychological Association’s Disaster Response Network. “She just really needed to talk to someone about it, even if she didn’t realize it.”
These new Disaster Mental Health volunteers will help the Red Cross provide this vital emotional support in the Boston area for years to come, but their work to help those affected by the marathon bombings is just getting started.
“I worry about what’s going to happen when the kids return to school,” Lam said. “Everyone is going to have a lot of different emotions to cope with, and I’m thrilled there are organizations like the Red Cross here to help.”
Learning the Skills to Respond in Texas
Ginger Keeton, 24, said she knew something big had happened in West when emergency calls started rolling in to her during her shift as a dispatcher for the Woodway Public Safety Department after the explosion on April 17.
"We didn't know what had happened at the time, but we were fielding calls about broken glass, injuries, fire,” Keeton recalled. “People were shocked and didn't know what had happened."
After Keeton’s shift ended handling emergency calls ended at 11 p.m., she volunteered to join the multi-agency emergency response to help with organization of the operation as workers from agencies all over the region poured in to help.
"The response was amazing, so many people from all over came to help – we had emergency responders who showed up at midnight who had driven several hours to get there,” she said. “The Red Cross was amazing and was there right away. “I remember the Red Cross liaison said: 'Call me at 5:00 a.m. to get breakfast for everyone.' They were already thinking ahead about taking care of everyone out there the next day."
Although Keeton already helped make a difference during this community's greatest time of need, she gave up her Saturday morning to train in additional skills to help during the next emergency.
"I personally like to supplement my training; I'm choosing to do this training because you never know what type of situation you're going to find yourself in," Keeton said. "Like West: I never would have thought I would be in that situation."
Keeton participated in a regularly scheduled Red Cross first aid and CPR course at the Red Cross chapter in Waco. While the local and regional Red Cross workers continue to deliver aid and supplies to residents and first responders affected by the tragic explosion in West, Texas, the nearby Red Cross chapter in Waco was also training local residents in lifesaving skills for the next emergency or disaster.
"Anybody could use these skills. For example, there were restaurants in downtown West that had windows blown out - every worker or patron in there could be in the position to help people if they had come to this type of class," she said. "I'm encouraging all of my colleagues to get trained."
Volunteers constitute 94 percent of the total American Red Cross workforce, bringing the humanitarian mission into communities across the country. National Volunteer Week is April 21-27. Learn how you can become a Red Cross volunteer.