“You’re Really Alive”: Mental Health Volunteer Remembers Katrina Clients

by Amy Gross, Gift Planning Officer, Los Angeles and Central California Regions

Here are some of my memories of working for fourteen days as a Disaster Mental Health volunteer at the Hurricane Katrina Los Angeles Chapter Service Center, where 2,500 people from the Houston Shelter were sent, to solve that shelter’s overcrowding. Los Angeles was only one of the places people were sent. I worked in the service center the last two weeks of September 2005.

As a DMH volunteer, part of my job was to wander around the center, talking to people to take the “emotional temperature” of the room. I walked up to a group of four very large teenage boys, all wearing baseball caps backwards, and saw one with ear buds, listening to music. I asked him what he was listening to, assuming it was rap. He took off his ear buds and said I could listen. Much to my surprise, and delight, it was jazz! Well of course it was jazz; he was from New Orleans, not Los Angeles. I started swaying to the beat and all the boys started laughing, saying, “Look, she’s cool. She likes it.” What a great day that was for me.

I walked up to one woman who was sitting and drinking coffee and said, “How are you?” She said, “Fine, thank you, m’am.” I said, “How are you really?” She began to cry, and told me she had been treated for depression at the County Mental Health Clinic in New Orleans since a suicide attempt ten months earlier. She was afraid she wouldn’t be able to get similar help in Los Angeles.” I gave her the contact information for the LA County Department of Mental Health, and she thanked me and was smiling when I left her.

A woman at the Superdome and then at the Houston shelter was flown to LAX because she was ill and in a wheel chair. A Red Cross nurse and I met her at the plane and got her on a shuttle that took her to her niece’s home in South Los Angeles. The nurse and I drove to the home and arrived before the shuttle got there. We asked the family to help us fill out the required paperwork to get the woman funds for food and clothing. Some of them were eager to help, and some were skeptical of why we were there. Then their aunt arrived, and I got to witness the reunion, where the family was sobbing and some touched her face and said, “You’re really alive.” It was an honor and a privilege to witness this event, and I was humbled to be able to represent the Red Cross.Amy Gross.rco_blog_img_

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