Pat Krebs is a Disaster Mental Health and Spiritual Care volunteer with the American Red Cross. She is a board-certified chaplain and a licensed clinical counselor with years of professional experience.
Pat put her skills to work recently when the Red Cross opened a shelter for residents affected by an apartment fire. Over the course of a week, at least 24 people moved in and out of the shelter. They ate hot meals and had a warm, safe place to sleep. Volunteers helped them replace clothes, medications, and important documents.
Pat did a lot of listening at the shelter. “It’s not so much about what we say, but being an active presence, listening to their story, that tells them we care about them,” she said.
“We’re leading with our hearts, and then we’re assessing with the skills from our training.”
Her care after a disaster might start with a bottle of water, or with helping someone find out where a loved one is. It continues with what she calls “compassionate listening and helping people build resilience.”
People affected by a disaster are often in a state of shock, she said, and caring for them includes helping them re-orient to the present: who they are, where they are, what time it is. She might lead them in deep breathing techniques to calm anxiety. She might help them remember coping strategies that they’ve used in the past.
“You’re working in the moment,” Pat said.
People are resilient, and generally the services volunteers like Pat provide are enough to help them begin to recover their emotional equilibrium. If needs are deeper than the one to three interactions a Disaster Mental Health volunteer can offer, volunteers refer them to community resources.
Pat is one of a cadre of Red Cross volunteers with specialized skills that includes spiritual care providers and medical personnel. The spiritual care providers include trained chaplains; all have advanced professional training in spiritual care. Medical personnel may be paramedics, emergency medical technicians, or nurses. Mental health volunteers also have professional certifications.
In addition to their professional credentials, these specialized volunteers have been trained in the ways the Red Cross responds to disasters. They understand how a disaster might affect someone mentally, emotionally and spiritually as well as physically.
Important qualities for these volunteers, she said, include recognizing “we’re not the superhero. We’re part of a team that is our brother’s keeper.”
“For me,” she said, “being a Disaster Mental Health or Spiritual Care responder is a blessing, not only to those we meet, but they are a blessing back to us.”
Like Pat, you can be “the best part of someone’s worst day.” To learn about volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross, including these specialized roles, visit http://www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer#step1