Story contributed by Ekland Durousseau

In early November, volunteers from Disaster Mental Health (DMH), Disaster Health Services (DHS) and Disaster Spiritual Care (DSC) gathered for the first ever regional integrated health institute. The institute attracted over 60 volunteers, providing hard to find required classes, an opportunity for volunteers to build a stronger sense of community and build capacity for the region.

“We really wanted to provide an opportunity for volunteers across the region to come together and meet one another,” said Rachel Mobley Regional Direct Services Manager. “So much of disaster care work is done virtually. Team members see each other’s names all the time, but they have not been able to meet and get to know each other.”

Attendees at the institute had a wide spectrum of volunteer experience. Ranging from volunteers with more than 20 national deployments, to volunteers that just signed up.

Alison Smith joined the Red Cross DMH team two weeks before the institute. She works as a grief and bereavement counselor at a local hospice. She helps families learn to cope with the loss of their loved ones. She is excited about helping those affected by disaster with the avalanche of emotions that come with major life changes.

“I think it is easy to overlook emotional trauma, because it’s not something you can see on the outside. I would encourage people to seek out their mental health resources because trauma builds up and you could turn around one day and realize you have built up decades of trauma that you haven’t dealt with and all of the sudden you wonder why it’s impacting your life and it’s because you haven’t dealt with it.”

Smith purposefully sought out the Red Cross, but for volunteer Sandra Gomez, her service was a happy accident.

Several years ago, Gomez had to take a Red Cross class for Texas State Guard training and fell in love with an organization where her experience and passion not only serve the client, but enhances her life. “I get so much more back from it. I learn so much more. I learn to be compassionate, to be trauma informed when I speak to people, not to judge, to listen compassionately – to just be supportive.”

Gomez is a volunteer with a very full life. She is married with four school-age children, two cats, a member of the Texas State Guard, she’s a full-time night psychiatric nurse at the VA hospital and in postgraduate school. Finding time to volunteer can be challenging, but for Gomez, it is a gift worth giving.

“I think this volunteer part of my life just completes me and I hope to encourage my kids and my family and friends to do it. The real gift to the volunteer is that experience that you can later synthesis in your own life and be a better person overall.”

For more information on Disaster Mental Health, Disaster Health Services, or Disaster Spiritual Care visit