By Helen Brooks, Red Cross Volunteer

Being comfortable means different things to people.  At its most basic, it is having the physical elements of shelter, food, and loved ones around you.  But comfort can take many forms.  People in today’s society experience so much that either hurts them emotionally, or physically, or simply leaves them with such despair and heartache they are not sure where to turn, or whom to turn to.

The human spirit is very strong, and it shows when Red Cross volunteers come together to help others.  Especially when you have a month like we had here in the U.S. with Harvey hitting Houston with record breaking rains, Irma hitting Florida, Maria devastating Puerto Rico, the tragic events in Las Vegas, and all followed up by the California Wildfires.  In a short period of time, we, Red Cross volunteers, witnessed the strength and resilience of people, but also the despair of those not knowing what they will be able to do next, after their lives have been destroyed or turned upside down. It is the Red Cross volunteers who bring what seems to be endless support to those in need.

I worked on all the above mentioned relief efforts virtually, and in doing so met three very special people.  They also worked on all the hurricane relief efforts, and one even helped with the California Wildfires, too.  Two of these volunteers, Carol Janssens and Kathy Kennard, are from the same area, Snohomish County in Washington State, and the third, Leann S. Johnson, is from Montana.

Carol, a K-9 Action Team Lead, has two beautiful dogs that have worked on behalf of the Red Cross as therapy dogs.  Faith and Joy are labs that have been trained to assist people by comforting them emotionally, and providing the very calming presence that allows individuals to regain their emotional stability while staying in a shelter, or as they prepare to return home. Some will find their home there where they left it, while others may not, only having remnants remaining of their home.  These dogs help those people cope.

Both Carol and Kathy provided supervision to others in the virtual reunification group for all three hurricane relief efforts.  They not only provided the supervision, but also the guidance for incoming volunteers on how to work the cases that came in from the call centers.  They did a magnificent job.  Kathy was also deployed to the California Wildfires, helping to distribute food to many in remote areas in the aftermath of the fires.

Leann provided oversight to the entire reunification group and liaised with other lead personnel in planning next moves on a daily basis.   She helped to lay the groundwork on how to progress with efforts to handle the influx of calls for all the hurricanes.  Once she completed that assignment, she went on to be the lead for the ground reunification crew in Puerto Rico, working on high priority emergency requests.  Against some pretty overwhelming odds (such as no electricity, and virtually no other utilities, and somewhat chaotic environs) it became a race against time to get to areas where emergency requests for information about specific individuals being sought by those who had called the call center could be seen through.   Getting to remote locations was a challenge, but the most important challenge was getting organized GIS data coupled with the addresses provided by the inquirers looking for their friends, or loved ones on the island.  This required the identification of regions, districts, cities, and barrios on the island so that the data could be given to the Red Cross Reunification Crews daily, as they sought out to find individuals in specific areas.

Recovery after these storms will take a long time, but the Red Cross will continue its efforts to reunify people with family and friends, and make people feel as comfortable as possible, wherever they are. And, this work could never be done without the incredible efforts of volunteers like Carol, Kathy and Leann.


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