The wildfires that torched California's Lake, Calaveras, and Amador Counties last September destroyed more than 1,700 homes and displaced thousands of families. Like many from the American Red Cross who were deployed to one of the fire locations, Eleanor Guzik — a longtime volunteer nurse from Ventura in the Central California Region — was a valuable resource for many of the people who relied on the national organization to help them with food, water, shelter and other critical needs in the first days and weeks of the fire-response operation.
Many months later, Guzik, a Red Cross nurse for more than 10 years, and others in the organization have continued to track the smaller — but still important — needs of hundreds of clients from the fires. The cases of five such clients — four adults and one child — were of particular concern to Guzik, as they had lost hearing aids that they were financially unable to replace.
While considering their plight one day, Guzik recalled a chance meeting she'd had with another Red Cross volunteer, Marilyn Reilly, from the organization's Desert to the Sea Region. Reilly had worked in the hearing aid field — and after speaking to Guzik, sought help from a leading supplier of the devices, Sonus Hearing Care Professionals.
In February, the persistence of Guzik and Reilly paid off when Sonus, with critical support from Starkey Hearing Foundation, announced that the five victims would get new hearing aids for free.
During an emotional event at Sonus's Walnut Creek offices on February 11, four of the five were on hand to be fitted for their new devices.
Daniel Smith, who is temporarily residing in Sebastopol, was one of the four who made the trip to Walnut Creek that day.
Having his hearing restored is important to him, he said. But Smith has acquired a lot of perspective since losing his home, vehicles, and other possessions during the Valley Fire.
"In a way, after all that happened to me, my hearing loss was not the biggest of my concerns," Smith readily admits. But he says the donation he's received has done more than improve his hearing; the experience has been a big boost to his spirits.
And Smith quickly mentions how thrilled he was that he got some face time with Guzik, who surprised Smith by attending the event in Walnut Creek. "She flew all the way up here from her home, and there she was standing there smiling at me after I received my hearing aids."
Guzik, Smith says, never lost faith that the Red Cross and its partners could help him and the other four victims. "She kept telling me to just be patient," he recalls.
"The hearing aids are great. I couldn't be more pleased — and more humble, Smith adds. "This has been a real light in the darkness for me."
Guzik, meanwhile, is quick to deflect credit to her Red Cross colleagues, Reilly and division disaster health services advisor Diane St. Denis, who helped shepherd the donation through its final steps — and, of course, to Sonus and the Starkey Foundation. "Their combined efforts provided a total of more than $30,000 worth of hearing aids to these five people so that they could hear again. The people at Sonus and Starkey are the real heroes in this story."
It's just the kind of comment one comes to expect from Guzik, whose Red Cross information includes her work experience as Registered Nurse and Nurse Practitioner and her Red Cross roles of Disaster Cycle Services Nurse Consultant and member of the Pacific Division's Disaster Response Management Team.
"But the important line," she quickly adds, "is the one that says: American Red Cross Volunteer. It's a work of the heart, and that's why I continue on with it."
Caption: Eleanor Guzik, a longtime volunteer nurse for the American Red Cross, was a valuable resource for many victims of the devastating fires in Northern California in fall 2015. It's a certainty that five people, who couldn't afford to replace hearing aids they lost when their homes burned, are very thankful for her help. One of them, Daniel Smith, is shown with Eleanor.