by Joi Wilson
Celina Ramirez is one of Community Health Center Network’s newest Case Managers. She assists patients who have been hospitalized by making sure they understand their discharge plans and in scheduling follow-up appointments with their primary care physicians. This past November, Celina was unable to spend Thanksgiving with her family and friends; instead she was in New York helping out where she could with Hurricane Sandy victims. I spoke with Celina about her volunteer work and learned about the resilience of the people affected by the super storm.
Joi Wilson (JW): How were you selected to volunteer your services in New York?
Celina Ramirez (CR): I’m a licensed member of the National Association of Social Workers and the request came from them on behalf of the American Red Cross who needed to deploy mental health staff. To my understanding, this is the first time that the Red Cross has reached out to other entities and organizations to fill the need for such a large operation. So I was there as a “partner” to the Red Cross.
JW: What were you expected to do once you were in New York?
CR: The Red Cross wanted the mental health workers for a dual purpose; to support the staff and volunteers as well as being available to those directly impacted by Hurricane Sandy. With my social work focus, what I really was trying to do was make myself available because with this type of situation you’re not really able to treat any type of disorder; because it’s not over yet for these families. You can’t say one has PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) because when you speak of a particular disorder there are guidelines for how long after the event has happened where certain symptoms still arise. I couldn’t approach people and say “I’m here from mental health.” Some people would talk to me but really, just giving them a hotline number, printed material to refer to, and an ear was sometimes all that they needed.
JW: What was it like when you got there?
CR: I was sent to a local shelter in Long Island set up by the Red Cross at Nassau Community College. There was a very large, diverse homeless population there; those who were recently made homeless due to the storm and those who were already homeless to begin with. But even with all that the people had been through, it was inspiring to see, not just the people that came together from across the world to help, but even inside the shelter there were families who banded together and would do childcare for each other. There was an older gentleman who mentioned that he’d never gotten to know his neighbors but after the storm one of his neighbors offered to fix his water heater and another was helping to find him a new car.
JW: What did you try to do to facilitate a dialogue with the hurricane victims?
CR: I set up a little area with arts and crafts materials, books and magazines, that sort of thing. I made an invitation and intended for kids and teenagers to come and look through the magazines and to cut out images that showed what it has meant for them to be at the shelter. There were only two people who worked on this with me; a man in his mid-forties and a lady in her sixties. The lady surprised me because she described the situation as the camping trip she never went on during school. She had a beautiful smile on her face and said it’s been great with food and the wonderful, sympathetic people from the Red Cross. And she actually seemed sad that it was coming to an end. I was expecting her to pour her heart out to me but instead she came from a very positive place.
JW: If someone wants to become a volunteer with the Red Cross, how would you recommend they do that?
CR: It’s easy to just Google the Red Cross and find your local chapter and give them a call. Volunteering my time there was such a rewarding experience; I’d definitely do it again.
For those of you interested in volunteering with the American Red Cross or donating money to disaster relief, please visit www.redcross.org.