When her grandmother used to say, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Sandi Mettler listened. Now, the Auburn resident is living that golden rule as a dedicated disaster volunteer with the Central New York Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Helping others has always been an integral part of Mettler’s life. Along with Father Dennis Shaw, she started the Chapel House Homeless Shelter at Holy Family Catholic Church in Auburn and became its executive director. She also served on the Board of Directors at the Auburn Hospitality Center, which cares for families that are visiting inmates at the Auburn Correctional Facility.
Her Red Cross experience started in the 1980s, when Haiti Road in Port Byron flooded and she signed up as a volunteer to offer assistance. Later, she was hired by the Red Cross as the emergency services director in the Rome office. In 2001, Mettler was deployed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to New York, where she spent two chaotic weeks searching for survivors.
Of her experiences in New York, the moment that stands out in her mind is when search dogs were brought in to help find survivors. After about four days with minimal success, the team accepted the fact that they would not find anyone alive.
“Poor dogs. Their little noses were burnt,” Mettler said. “They were depressed because they couldn’t find anyone. So we hid in boxes at night and pretended to let them find us. They would get so excited that they found someone alive. It was the most rewarding thing.”
Shaken by the intensity of 9/11, Mettler resigned from her Red Cross position after returning to Central New York. But she remained with the Red Cross as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteer and has continued to provide regular relief response after fires, floods and other local emergencies.
“There’s so much going on,” she said. “There are always three to four fire departments on the scene, but the lead is the one you have to talk to. There’s ambulances, police, media, ER people and you have to piece it all together. You have to ask yourself, ‘Who needs help?’ ’’
Mettler and her late husband, Charles, worked together on the DAT and had the routine down to a science. After arriving on the scene, they would split up to cover more ground. Charles – who posthumously received a Disaster Preparedness and Response Services Award from the Red Cross this past summer – would speak with the fire chief to assess the situation. Sandi would go directly to the families involved to determine their needs.
Their daughter, Audra Jakaub, who works at Cayuga Centers, and their granddaughter, Courtney Lynch, a graduate of Auburn High School who is currently attending Onondaga Community College, are also certified DAT members. Since Charles’ passing in 2013, Sandi, Jakaub and Lynch have had to re-work their roles but continue to persevere.
Mettler said she would like to respond to a national disaster with her daughter and granddaughter because they believe it’s an experience they should share with one another – and in Charles’ memory.
Mettler said she loves having the opportunity to guide people and offer them advice in their time of need. She urges anyone who’s considering volunteering to just go out once before making the decision.
“I’ll volunteer forever. There’s no way out. I’m a lifer,” she said. “I look around my own home and am able to appreciate more what I have.”
Mettler’s day job is as a waitress at Hunter’s Dinerant in Auburn. When asked how she balances work with her volunteer duties, she said, “I’ve just always been used to it.
“It wouldn’t matter if it was Christmas or Thanksgiving, we responded,” she added. “Because that’s what we do. It’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Want to Learn More About Volunteering?
The American Red Cross of Central New York is hosting several events over the next several weeks for residents who want to learn more about volunteer opportunities with the humanitarian organization. In Cayuga County, events will be held from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Feb. 26 and 6 to 7:30 p.m. March 23, both at the Red Cross office at 11 State St., Auburn.
For a list of other events throughout Central New York and for more information about specific volunteer roles, click here.
Caleigh Gran is a junior writing & rhetoric and public health major at Syracuse University and an American Red Cross Communication Volunteer.
Photo courtesy of Sandi Mettler