Written by Joellen Barak
NEW YORK, NY, January 12, 2013 – It was just a small plot of land. That’s what Hyacinth Charles thought back in 1963, when she was helping get the American Red Cross in the U.S. Virgin Islands started. The fledgling chapter just needed a small plot of land for their offices. Hyacinth persuaded a wealthy man to donate the land, and the chapter began to build. Little did she know that this was the beginning of her lifetime involvement with the Red Cross—and that she would end up literally saving the lives of an entire family 50 years later in New York City.
Hyacinth, of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, has been volunteering in New York as part of the Superstorm Sandy response. She works in the client casework call center, a place residents affected by Sandy and still facing challenges can call for information that will help them as they rebuild their lives.
Hyacinth knew that the woman she was talking to seemed distraught. “She was crying before she even started talking,” she says. She told Hyacinth she could only think of one way to solve her problems—she was going to kill her children and then herself. There happened to be a volunteer chaplain working as a fellow call taker near Hyacinth in the call center that day. Hyacinth immediately signaled for him to help with the call. Before the chaplain could respond, Hyacinth continued to listen as the woman sobbed out her story. It turns out that the caller had lost both her home and her job as a result of the storm. A single mom, she was at the end of her rope. She truly felt that ending their lives was the only way to help her family.
Hyacinth tried immediately to remind the woman of reasons to be glad to be alive. She told her, “Honey, you’re here another day. Your children still have their mother. Only the man upstairs knows what comes next.” She offered to pray with the woman, and they did so. Hyacinth says she could hear the woman calming down.
As Hyacinth turned the call over to the chaplain, the woman thanked her. She told Charles to “keep up your good work.”
The American Red Cross can save lives in a number of ways: by collecting blood, teaching CPR skills, or teaching children to swim. Or simply by having a volunteer like Hyacinth Charles in place to answer a call from a desperate storm survivor.