Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina resident, Robin McRae, a mental health volunteer with the Charleston, SC Regional Chapter of the American Red Cross, has just returned home after spending the past two weeks in the Ft. Collins, Colorado area assisting victims of the wildfires. On some days, she worked at a fixed service delivery site and on others, she joined an outreach team made up of a Red Cross nurse, a local mental health provider, a case worker, and an EMT. While providing outreach services to the many people affected by this disaster, Ms. McRae had to deal with thick smoke; she viewed the fires continuing to burn and felt the hot ground beneath her feet. One night, she stayed in a Red Cross staff shelter housed in a gymnasium and had to use a nearby barn to bathe, while a sheep-shearing contest was being held just outside the shower area.
But Ms. McRae, who holds a master’s degree in counseling and is a certified school counselor, says it was all worth it. She spent her days and evenings with victims of the wildfires, providing them with comfort, caring, support, and information as to where they could go to obtain services from the Red Cross and partner agencies to help meet their immediate needs and ensure their long-term recovery. She was able to counsel a steady stream of people about how their lives had been affected by the fires and what their plans were for the future. She urged them to think about what to do to take care of themselves emotionally and encouraged them to make use of the services available to them.
This is not Ms. McRae’s first disaster relief assignment. In September 2011, she assisted people in Vermont affected by Hurricane Irene and those whose homes were destroyed by tornadoes in Kentucky this past March. She lived through Hurricane Hugo in 1989. But Ms. McRae says this experience was different, because the disaster didn’t strike quickly as happens with a hurricane or a tornado; these fires continued to burn day after day, and the people affected were on an emotional roller coaster, not knowing if or when their homes would be destroyed or if or when they could return to them. “The stress seemed endless,” she said.
Even in this difficult situation, Ms. McRae was heartened by the response she observed in the people she served. She recalls speaking with a retired forest ranger, who volunteered his services even though his home had burned to the ground. As his eyes scanned the ashes, he began to talk about the future…rebuilding, planting trees, helping his friends and neighbors restore their lives in the mountains…and he thanked Ms. McRae for her role in alleviating the initial suffering he experienced, “I cannot tell you how helpful this was; I didn’t know where to start. I appreciate so much what the Red Cross has done.” And Ms. McRae heard similar comments daily from the people she had traveled across the country to serve.
When asked what Ms. McRae had taken with her from this experience, she recalled her time at the Stove Prairie Elementary School in Risk Canyon, Colorado. She and her colleagues were providing services inside the building, as the firefighters fought to keep the flames way from the area in order to save the more than 100-year-old school. They succeeded. Ms. McRae is “proud to be involved with the Red Cross, an organization that helps people take their first steps toward recovery after a disaster. I cannot imagine what the Colorado fire victims would have done without us, and I was happy to be able to play a role in alleviating their initial suffering.”
Hopefully, we won’t be faced with a major disaster here in the Lowcountry in the near future. But if we are, we can rely on Ms. McRae and the thousands of her Red Cross colleagues to help us make it through and move forward with our lives.
Contributions to the Red Cross are vital to the assistance given to victims of disaster, here in the Lowcountry and nationwide. Members of our community can support local victims of disasters, whether fires, flooding, or hurricanes, by contacting the American Red Cross at 843-764-2323 ext. 368 or by going to http://www.LowcountryRedCross.org.