In the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian, many are struggling — including the large military and veteran community based in Florida. Red Crosser Mathiuz DeJesus reports he and his colleagues at the American Red Cross Hero Care Center are committed to helping service members, veterans and their families get through these challenges.
As a Hero Care Center Senior Specialist, DeJesus connects service members and their families with vital community resources. The Hero Care Center (HCC) in partnership with military aid societies — Army Emergency Relief, Air Force Aid Society and Navy Marine Corps Relief Society — helps with financial assistance requests for emergency travel or other routine financial needs for military members, military retirees and their families.
Senior Director of the HCC Kevin Boleyn says that the center is available to assist the military community affected by Hurricane Ian. “We are helping people with access to military aid society financial assistance for evacuation (departure and return), stabilization-in-place and recovery as dictated by each military aid society,” he said.
“In addition to our normal service activities, the HCC has handled nearly 600 calls from military members, military retirees and their families impacted by hurricane Ian,” Boleyn said. “We know this storm has a particular significance for the military and veteran community. Given the storm’s impact on many of the estimated 1.4 million veterans and the 70,000 active-duty personnel who live in Florida, we are actively engaged in ensuring that the unique needs of this population are met,” he said.
For service members or their commands considering leave to assist their families with recovery from the storm, the center cannot provide individual assessments or verification of property damages due to the area's conditions and the disaster's complexity. Boleyn says that in these situations, military commands can grant leave based on a service member's need and location, publicly available information regarding the extent of damages for impacted areas across Florida.
Boleyn says that the HCC has added additional staff and resources to meet the needs of the military population who may be impacted. “Our primary goal is to connect people with resources to meet their immediate needs after this disaster,” he said.
DeJesus’s colleagues say his Spanish language skills are of value to many who call the center, particularly in the wake of this hurricane’s impact on Florida, which has over 2.4 million Spanish speakers. “Being able to explain an emergency in your native tongue is helpful for all involved. The person calling can speak their mind and connect,” he said. “I know when my HCC colleagues say, ‘I have a favor’ that they want me to speak with someone in Spanish —and I’m happy to do so because I know it will help us achieve the best outcome,” he said.
DeJesus says that whether the call is in English, Spanish or another foreign language, the main mission at the HCC is to get the full picture of the situation. “That way, we can see where people need assistance and we can do our best to be of assistance,” he said.
DeJesus previously supported the military when storms that hit Texas in February 2021 and created challenging. “Our team at the Hero Care Center was flexible and we came up with creative solutions. We helped a lot of people. I went to bed with peace of mind because we gave it our all during that crisis and we helped those who were in need,” he said.
In the wake of Ian, DeJesus says that he and his colleague are here and ready to do so again. “We gave it our all for that crisis and we will do so again with this one,” he concluded.
For more information or to get assistance, call the Hero Care Network at 877-272-7337 and download the free Hero Care App.