By Mimi Teller
Disasters naturally cause tremendous upheaval: In addition to the onset of an emergency there often follows evacuations, damage or destruction and the turmoil of first responders. Life for anyone who has experienced a crisis understands the physical, emotional and mental turmoil. Too often what follows next can be a deafening silence. This is where the American Red Cross casework team and volunteers like Alonzo Cephus step in.
Once the responding Red Cross disaster action team opens a case, casework volunteers contact the people affected within 24-48 hours to provide follow-up and recovery planning services. This personalized care and two-way communication continue with the same caseworker until the path towards recovery is steadied, which can range from a few days to a few months depending on each family’s or individuals’ needs. Casework volunteers provide financial assistance for those who qualify, along with internal and external referrals for replacing the loss of critical items like clothing, household essentials and medically related necessities. Caseworkers also assist with problem-solving advocacy, working closely with other community partners to organize recovery needs and strategies.
In addition to their follow-through caseworkers meet virtually or in person for an hour every week. They discuss how to best assist each person affected by disaster, share resources with one another and ensure no one is left without the support required, including other casework team members.
“Human suffering is real, no matter someone’s circumstances. When you need help, you need help,” shared Alonzo, “As a caseworker I am out in the community talking to people who have just lost everything, providing them assistance towards recovery along with a human-to-human touch.”
When Alonzo retired in 2012 from the L.A. County Department of Social Services, he decided becoming a Red Cross volunteer was the natural next step. During his time at DPSS, L.A. County work would often halt for Alonzo and his team of 150 Welfare Fraud Prevention & Investigation staff whenever disaster struck the county. Meanwhile, the Red Cross would need an influx of people to staff shelters, distribute emergency supplies and facilitate recoveries; in response Alonzo rendered his staff available to help. For nearly half of his four decades at DPSS, Alonzo would take up post at the Emergency Operation Center and coordinate DPSS support during the county’s disaster responses.
When Alonzo finally and officially joined the Red Cross as a volunteer, his two decades of disaster support work proceeded him. Alonzo is also not the only one in his family to have served the Red Cross — in 1946 his grandmother received recognition for her service during World War II. L.A. communities and the Red Cross mission are fortunate to have the long tradition of dedication from volunteers like Alonzo.
To learn more about volunteering, visit redcross.org/volunteer