by Juanita P. Casanova, Red Cross Contributor

The most important characteristic of a social worker is empathy. Shirley Jackson, a licensed independent clinical social worker from Middleboro, Massachusetts, displays this essential trait as an American Red Cross volunteer.

Jackson retired from the Veterans Administration five years ago and became a Red Cross volunteer. “I just feel an obligation to help people when they feel overwhelmed over a crisis, and they need some assistance with coping skills.”

Shirley Jackson, LICSW

Jackson has deployed to approximately seven disasters, mainly floods; however, her most trying and sensitive deployment was her assignment during the school shooting in Oregon. “I had a hard time listening to the students describe their feelings and thoughts about hiding in the next room, hearing the rapid shots and the sound of feet stomping loudly through the halls,” recalled Jackson. “I knew the feelings were not about me, but the way students and professors deal most effectively with their present crisis.”

As a disaster mental health worker, Jackson evaluates the needs of those impacted by disaster. She may contact different groups within the Red Cross to report unmet needs such as health services, food, shelter, emergency clean up supplies, spiritual care, long-term recovery, or sometimes even local community services.

Monday was a hot and sunny afternoon; however, Jackson was unbothered, walking up and down Kingwood neighborhood streets, knocking on the doors of homes which were recently impacted by local flooding. Her kind and caring nature was visible as she carefully listened. Her calm and gentle voice brought some peace as those affected shared their experiences through the tears.