Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksliving - Disaster Spiritual Care Team

Red Cross Chaplain Ron Oliver reflects on his role with Disaster Spiritual Care Team at Red Cross Disaster Headquarters, New York, NY 11/17/12. (American Red Cross/Vicky Brown)
The following was written by Vicky Brown, a Red Cross Public Affairs officer currently responding to Hurricane Sandy.

“Do no harm,” this is the mantra of the Red Cross Disaster Spiritual Care Team. Led by Certified Chaplain Ronald Oliver, PH.D, (Louisville, KY), the team helps Red Cross staff and clients utilize the resources of their faith to understand and cope with Hurricane Sandy.

“As its core work, chaplains utilize the authority and unique tools of the pastoral office to fortify faith and hope. Also to solve, or at least mitigate, the problems and anxieties of those affected,” Ron said.

Ron pointed out the most important difference between chaplain service and parish pastoral service. “Because of the neutrality of the Red Cross, we offer a spiritual process, not a religious content. In other words, we help people use their religious tool box. This is regardless of whether they are Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, etc. We do not do evangelistic preaching of a specific religious agenda, but are inclusive and respectful of all faiths.”

The DSC Team accomplishes this in several ways. Along with Red Cross health and mental health teams, chaplains do condolence visits to those who have tragically lost family members. They visit shelters and distribution sites, to bring hope to those devastated. Chaplains walk the streets in disaster zones comforting individuals and helping with systemic community issues compounded by the storm. They also support Red Cross staff and volunteers through the long, tough days of deployment.

“We help make the heart good again,” as Ron so eloquently stated.

Ron is the System Vice President of Mission and Outreach for the Norton Healthcare System. Norton Healthcare is a faith based, five hospital organization located in Louisville, KY. Ron first took Red Cross training in 1999 and was part of AIR (Air Incident Response) and SAIR (Spiritual Air Incident Response) teams. His first deployment was to the condolence center in New York following 9/11. He also volunteered during the 2006 Comair plane crash in Lexington, KY. Currently he is serving on a national task force to develop a model for more chapters to implement a Disaster Spiritual Care Team. The model is being piloted in Louisville, San Diego and Cincinnati chapters.

On his current deployment in New York, Ron’s job is to set a vision for the DSC Team derived from Red Cross organizational priorities. With a quiet but strong leadership style, he helps remove obstacles, problem solve and encourage. He often has to make sure chaplains and volunteers take care of themselves.
Red Cross Chaplain Allen Sieger offers comfort at the Amityville Distribution Center in Amityville, NY 11/17/12. (American Red Cross/Vicky Brown)

“They will work until they drop and not takes days off,” he said. “I have to show them how to recharge their batteries by getting away from it all. We cannot look into the sun every day without being adversely affected. We will always remember what happened here, be connected to it emotionally and know in some way we made a positive difference. Down the road, broken bones heal, but they always hurt when the weather changes.”

Ron shared some of the client stories that he has dealt with in New York while helping those affected by Hurricane Sandy. In Breezy Way, NY, he found a woman digging through the rubble of her home that had been ravaged by a ferocious fire. She pointed to a tiny black stump on the ground that had previously been the family tree that they had planted years ago. She had taken part of the stump to her sister’s house, where she was now staying. After putting it in water, to her delight, it had started to sprout little green buds. She said, “It is like her life now, living someplace else, but with help, starting to blossom again.”

Two other client families will forever impact Ron's life and remind us all of what is important. Both had lost spouses when each individual went back to retrieve possessions in the rising flood waters. They were subsequently trapped and drowned in the swirling torrent. Ron reflected about the symbolism of this in relation to the upcoming holiday season.

“With water up to your chest, do we choose to save the right stuff? Do we live life with gratitude and humility? Do we live with Thanksliving. Thanksgiving is a discipline, not just a day.”

Good advice for all of us at this holiday and family time.