Grace Meinhofer, Regional Communications Director, deployed to Puerto Rico after the devastating earthquakes. Here in her own words, she tells us about her experience.
After a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Puerto Rico on Jan. 7, I deployed to the island with a team of disaster mental health volunteers. We were a team of five on our way to see a teenager with terminal cancer and her family, who lives in a rural area in Ponce, Puerto Rico. We had spent a few hours driving to look for them. When we finally arrived, we noticed there was a sign at the entrance that said: Campamento Fe y Esperanza, which means “Faith and Hope Camp,” I knew immediately the sign would set the tone for what we are about to experience.
As the team of disaster mental health professionals enter the camp, they were greeted by a tall, beautiful, bright-eyed teenager named Michelle. She stepped out from a tent where she had been taking a nap. She introduced two of her seven siblings who were sleeping in a tent next to her.
This is not a routine visit for Red Cross Volunteer and Licensed Nurse Practitioner Michelle Novelle, who is also a mother of 10. Novelle starts talking to Michelle and assessing her current condition. Not long after, Michelle’s father approaches, the mother after him and little by little we are greeted by the entire Perez-Velez family.
In Red Cross spirit, we there to provide hope and help to the family. The children were given teddy bears, coloring books and crayons and each family member received comfort kits and blankets.
While Novelle continues to evaluate Michelle, the rest of the children share their experiences during the earthquake. Children experience traumatic events differently. Experiencing a disaster can leave them feeling frightened, confused and insecure. Red Cross mental health professionals create an environment that provides children with opportunities to talk and discuss their fears, concerns, and provide a plan in case a disaster strikes again.
I remember Michelle’s mother Mayra suddenly approached me and said that “Cancer patients have good days and bad days. Today, Michelle woke with one of these bad days. She has been throwing up and with very low spirits. But after you guys came, I can see the brightness in her eyes. She is happy again.”
We spent an hour or two with the Perez-Velez family. It was such a happy place even though they had lost their home. You feel the hope, their faith and above all - you feel the love in this place.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
You can help people affected by the Puerto Rico Earthquakes by texting the word EARTHQUAKES to 90999 to make a $10 donation or indicating this disaster on the donation form on redcross.org, and printing and mailing to your local Red Cross chapter. The Red Cross honors donor intent, and all designated funds will be used to support the affected communities in Puerto Rico through emergency relief, recovery and preparedness efforts.
RECONNECT WITH LOVED ONES The Red Cross has two easy ways to help people reconnect. The Red Cross Emergency App features an “I’m Safe” button that allows users to post a message to their social accounts to let friends and family know that they are out of harm’s way. The Red Cross also offers the Safe and Well website, safeandwell.org, which is a private and more secure option. It allows people to list their own status by customizing a message for their loved ones or selecting pre-scripted messages.
Written by Grace Meinhofer
Photos by Marvin Fonseca