Story by Jill Mercado, American Red Cross
Listening to the able-bodied, 94 year old widow’s story, Angeli Fernandez was on the edge of her seat as though listening to a riveting novel.
“I felt privileged and honored to speak with her,” said Angeli as she bit back tears. Currently serving as an American Red Cross casework volunteer for Houston flood response, Fernandez reflected on the caller’s story of love and loss. “She had been impacted by the flood but first needed to speak about the man she met and fell in love with during WWII, when she was a young nurse and he a soldier on the front line.”
In some ways, caseworkers are unsung heroes. They are the people who, often behind the scenes, spend countless hours answering calls from those who are going through the most painful of times. They help people to navigate paperwork, locate help from other agencies, create individual recovery plans, and if qualified, receive financial support.
Eighty Red Cross case workers, both on site and virtually, have opened more than 2,000 cases since storms ravaged the Greater Houston area on April 18. These individuals will continue guiding people and helping them get on their feet for months to come—long after the devastating Houston floods are no longer in the headlines. But first, they will listen.
Angeli had been on the job for eight days before the elderly lady called. “I often wonder if I’m making a difference,” said the Wichita Falls, Texas native. “But when she reflected on how she missed her late husband and joked about how they stuck together because divorce wasn’t an option, I knew this was what she needed the most. I was humbled that she shared her story with me.”
Red Cross case workers do what they do for many reasons but they all have one thing in common—the desire to serve. Angeli, a former counselor and self-described “person who saves animals on the side of the road,” was moved when she saw how the organization helped people in Moore, Oklahoma after tornadoes destroyed the town in May 2013. She was trained by the Red Cross shortly thereafter and has never looked back.
After Angeli determined her needs, the Red Cross was able to provide the elderly caller with desperately-needed food and shelter and connect her to supportive community partners. Angeli was grateful for this but felt especially fortunate to listen. “I’m just one of many, many case workers who work hard to help others,” she insisted. “But this lady was special to me—she really helped me that day.”
Then she commented “You know what she said when she finished her story? After she had lost everything in the floods and didn’t know where she was going to live? She said ‘My life has been perfect.’”
With that she smiled and rejoined her fellow caseworkers at the phones. The American Red Cross is working with local residents with flood damage who may qualify for additional help.
Anyone impacted by the flood can meet with a Red Cross caseworker and register their household by calling 866-526-8300 – option 1.