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Having deployed to 9/11, Vicky Powell brings 'calming presence' to her Red Cross work

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We took family members to Ground Zero every day so that they could participate in the memorials.

By Aidan Rubio

After 17 years of volunteer service for the American Red Cross, Vicky Powell is highly regarded both inside and outside of the Northern California Coastal Region for her expertise, leadership, and dedication in the field of disaster mental health.

In fact, the attributes Powell brings to her Red Cross services made her a logical choice to receive the prestigious Clara Barton Award, the Red Cross's highest honor for volunteers, at the Silicon Valley Chapter annual volunteer recognition event, held in April of 2016.

Powell began her Red Cross service in 1999, however that was not her first interaction with the organization. Powell had taken several Red Cross classes before one of her friends made the suggestion that she sign up and officially join the Red Cross's impactful volunteer corps.

It didn't take long after her Red Cross career began for Powell to begin to appreciate the enormity of her new calling. After terrorists struck in the terrifying 9/11 attacks of 2001, Powell deployed to one of only two Family Assistance Centers that were set up in the New York-New Jersey area to offer help to the many families there who desperately needed it after the twin towers collapsed. Her assignment was at a center established in the Ferry Terminal in Liberty State Park, on the New Jersey side of the harbor.

"We took family members by ferry to Ground Zero every single day so that they could participate in the memorials there," she recalls.

The experience of helping the family members was “unlike anything I had previously done with the Red Cross or have done since,” Powell acknowledges. One particularly touching recollection she has of that assignment is of her reading a memory board that had been created at Ground Zero. On this board, friends and family members wrote notes, sharing memories of people who were missing.

"The memories were sometimes written without even knowing whether a loved one was dead or alive," Powell says.

Today, as a leader in disaster mental health in the Pacific Division, Powell provides support to local, regional, and divisional Red Cross leadership about the best way for the organization to provide an appropriate and helpful mental health response to emotionally trying situations. As a Disaster Mental Health Manager, Pacific Division Disaster Mental Health Advisor, and Northern California Coastal Regional Lead, Powell regularly confronts the need to balance "all of the things I would like to see done, with the all of the things that need to be done,” she says.

Because of her work in the field of disaster mental health, Powell often has to help clients who are emotionally distraught as a result of their experiences. Fortunately for such clients, Powell is described by her co-workers as a “calming presence” who is amazing at helping others work through their challenges.

That reputation may stem from the fact that, 17 years after she started with the Red Cross, Powell still believes that the most important and rewarding aspects of her job are the interactions she has with the people she works for and with.

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About the author: Aidan Rubio wrote this article while interning during the summer of 2016 for the American Red Cross of the Silicon Valley.