Story by Stefanie Arcangelo, American Red Cross
Photos by Jay Bonafede, American Red Cross
“I’m fine.” That’s the initial answer most people impacted by disaster give when asked. But American Red Cross volunteer and licensed clinical social worker Elizabeth English knows you have to dig a little deeper to really know how these families are doing.
As a Red Cross disaster mental health volunteer, Elizabeth has been working with families
in Southeast Texas as they begin to recover after the floods. “Many of these people had a lot of trauma and tragedy before the floods hit,” she said. “This was kind of the last straw for them.”
When the Red Cross responds to a disaster, mental health volunteers are available to help. Whether it is a single family home fire or a large-scale disaster like the Southeast Texas floods, these volunteers are ready to assist with the emotional needs of families, first responders and Red Cross staff.
“I always get a lot of gratitude from both the staff and the client,” said English. “We get thanked a lot by the caseworkers for helping to calm the nerves of the families so they can help get them the assistance they need.”
Families in Southeast Texas have lost everything and like Elizabeth, Red Cross volunteer Sam Kohlenberg, a licensed professional counselor, is helping to support families’ emotional needs. On the ground in Texas, Sam has heard a lot about loss but is also witness to a great deal of hope. “People keep surprising me with how calm and patient they are and I am continually surprised by their resilience,” he said. “And how proud they are to be Texans!”
Volunteering with disaster mental health, Sam’s primary goal is to address the emotional needs of families and sometimes all that means is a sympathetic ear. “I think the need the people have most is just wanting their story to be witnessed. They want people to care about what happened to them.”
As most Red Cross volunteers will tell you, they get more out of helping others than the help they give and that is no different for Sam. “It’s pretty humbling,” he said while reflecting on his time in Southeast Texas. “It’s definitely a privilege. It makes me aware of my own privilege. Even if I’m not doing a lot, to be able to help others a little on the worst day of their lives, it’s a privilege.”