Red Cross shelter day three…working through the emotional stuff

by Andrea Bredow and Mark Smith, Twin Cities Red Cross Volunteers

When fire broke out on an early morning in Bloomington, Minnesota, a family of four found the only way to escape to safety was to break the second floor window, drop the oldest child out the window and then have her catch her two younger siblings. She caught one by the leg and the other around waist.  Not only is everything she owned now gone, she is also experiencing emotional reactions from an event no school aged girl should ever have to go through. The American Red Cross Disaster Stress Team steps in to help victims like this young girl work through the emotions from a traumatic life event.

On a sub-zero morning, people jumped out windows to escape this burning apartment building near Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo credit: Anne Florenzano/American Red Cross

Cay Shea Hellervik, a member of the disaster response stress team, is one of many volunteers at the Bloomington shelter helping the residents from the apartment fire get back on their feet.  As important as finding clothes, shelter and food after a tragic event so is dealing with the event its self and all the emotions that come with a major life tragedy. Cay says it is important to have someone around who wants to listen.

“It is important to talk through what they just experienced when it is still vivid,” says Cay.

When she first arrives at a shelter, Cay checks with the manager and other volunteers to get a general feel for who may need to talk to the stress team.

“I make sure I touch base with everyone, asking how they are doing, how they are feeling and get them to talk through the event, ” says Cay.

For many, a step in the healing process is getting back in their routine. One young girl in the shelter was concerned about missing school, the problem; she only had the pajamas full of soot from the fire. Cay realized returning to her regular schedule was important for the young girl. Cay and the pastor from the church where fire victims are staying found clothes the church had on hand. A phone call was made to the school district and with in 15 minutes the young girl was dressed and ready for the yellow school bus that arrived at the shelter. Cay noticed a tear run down the girls face as she stepped on the bus as she return to her “normal” schedule.

Play time with a Red Cross volunteer helps children heal after a traumatic fire disaster near Minneapolis, Minnesota, which displaced more than 30 people. Photo credit: Cathryn Kennedy/American Red Cross

Along with her professional background in psychology, Cay credits the training the Red Cross provides.

“Red Cross training is so important and prepares you so well for events like this,” says Cay.

All members of the stress team are all trained degreed professionals, but Cay challenges this community to “join the Red Cross regardless of your training, find out what your roll could be and use the great knowledge and training of the Red Cross to contribute to the community.”

For more information about volunteer opportunities, please visit redcrosstc.org.

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