WASHINGTON — Three Washington women traveled to New York in November, volunteering their time to help hundreds of disabled and geriatric patients displaced by Superstorm Sandy.
Through a program called ResCare on Call (ROC), Jillian Davis, clinical supervisor for ResCare, and Christine Jones and Tina King, ResCare direct support professionals, went to Brooklyn and Queens. From Nov. 15 through Nov. 20 the three sanitized bathrooms; gave showers to clients, some of whom hadn’t showered since Halloween; found clients hygiene products and other supplies, provided by the American Red Cross; served food; made beds; and various other tasks.
“We went to Brooklyn first, to Park Slope Armory,” King said. “Then we went to Queens, to York College.”
Davis explained many of the clients live in a nursing facility that was completely flooded by the superstorm. She said the entire first floor had to be torn out and rebuilt because of water damage, and large crews were working nonstop to get repairs made so the clients could go back home. Meanwhile, they were being housed at the armory and the college.
“At Queens it was mostly psychologically impaired and homeless people,” Davis said, describing the diverse clientele with which they worked. “In Brooklyn it was mostly geriatric and some homeless individuals with psychological issues being taken care of there.”
Davis and Jones and King agreed everything was well organized and ran smoothly. The ResCare volunteers worked with volunteers from Red Cross, FEMA and an environmental group. They said volunteers were stationed at various areas, such as the sleeping area, showers, bathrooms, food area and nurses’ station.
“If anyone was overstimulated, they had a quiet area set up with a therapist to talk to each one privately,” Davis said.
There was a doctor on site, according to Jones, and there was medically trained staff available to handle issues such as putting in feeding tubes and catheters.
Jones added that there was a community area where clients sang.
“There was an area with clothes and care packages if people needed them,” King added.
According to Davis, the ROC Team’s biggest responsibility was to ensure the safety and well-being of the people there, including staying on top of hygiene practices.
“I had to clean the toilet and sink every time someone went, and make sure they washed their hands,” King said. “I did that for 12 hours straight. I felt like a bent-over old lady at the end of the shift.”
The work was no walk in Central Park, and the women had no time for sightseeing in the Big Apple. They would not see any sites until they volunteered to drive a ResCare van home.
“We’d get up at 4 o’clock, get ready, get on the van by 5 o’clock, to the facility by 6 o’clock, start our briefing, work until 8 p.m., then have a debriefing,” Davis said. “It took about two hours to transport us back to where we were staying. We’d shower, get to bed and get up and start all over.”
In Brooklyn, they stayed in the Visiting Nurses Association office building. They said volunteers came from all over the United States, and there were probably 50 cots to a room. However, because they split shifts, not everyone was there at one time. At a nearby fitness center, they were allowed to use the showers and portable showers that were parked on the street for their use. In Queens, they stayed in a small classroom at the college.
Although the work was tiring and the conditions weren’t ideal, all three women thought it was a fulfilling experience.
“I just thought it was very rewarding,” Jones said. “Being from a small town you don’t see homeless people. You see it on TV, but it doesn’t affect you like it does in person. And we couldn’t have asked for better people to work with.”
They said they met a lot of interesting people, both in the ranks of volunteers and clients, and had several interesting conversations. Many of the locals they met were Jamaican, Russian, Italian and Jewish.
One Jewish gentleman they met at York College told them he felt God had sent them into his life for a reason, and he said a prayer for them.
Jones recalled helping a man shave because he was shaky. He told her he hadn’t shaved in three weeks, and she told him she’d have him looking like a new man. When she finished, she said, she told him to look in the mirror and tell her who he saw. He replied he hadn’t seen that guy in a while.
“He came back later and hugged me,” Jones said. “He remembered my name.”
Davis recalled a lady who was trying to be independent. She kept to herself, tried not to rely on assistance and barely spoke. Before leaving the facility on the last day they worked there, Davis asked the lady if she could bring her anything when she stopped by the next morning before heading back to Indiana. The lady said she’d like seltzer water, but she knew Davis wouldn’t bother to get it for her. When Davis went out of her way to get the seltzer water and drop it off for the woman, it produced a big smile and the woman finally opened up and began to chat.
Part of the job, Davis explained, is to provide comfort and a smiling face.
“If you’re kind and caring, you’re gonna get a good response out of them,” Jones said.
The three Washington women said many of the clients wished they’d stay and care for them all the time; and the Red Cross workers thanked them, telling them they’d never worked with such caring people.
“That’s where The ResCare name comes in Ñ respect and care,” Davis explained. “It takes a very special person to do this.”
Jones said considering the volunteers came from everywhere and didn’t know each other, they worked together very well.
“It was so good meeting everybody,” Davis said. “We made a lot of friends.
“To see the suffering was very heartbreaking, but to see people come together to help them was amazing.”
She said ResCare has a contract with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and people employed by ResCare are given the option of being on the ROC Team.
“You have to go through an application process, and they’ll call and offer you training to be part of the team,” Davis said. “We do it because we like to do it.”
Her boss was in a group of 100 sent before them.
“They called and said they needed more people and could we come,” Davis said, adding she, King and Jones were part of a group of 50 that went.
Jones said the call to New York was their first. She said being from a small town, it was very different going to the big city to work.
“We were excited and scared at the same time,” said King, who’d never been on a plane or traveled outside Indiana.
Although it was scary not knowing what they would be walking into, Davis said they dropped everything and went without question. Where they were, they said, they didn’t really see much destruction. However, flying over New Jersey on the way in, they saw what looked like little islands, but turned out to be some high spots in a town that had been washed out.
The city itself was noisy with honking horns, despite signs that warned of a $350 fine for honking. Fines were also threatened for standing on the sidewalk. Both penalties seemed odd to the Hoosier women, who also saw police on every corner and were cautioned not to go beyond certain points for their safety. They witnessed a 5 a.m. brawl between a gang member and another man at Dunkin’ Donuts.
“You might’ve heard New Yorkers aren’t friendly,” King said. “They’re not. It’s true.”
On the other hand, a neighborhood man paid for more than $50 worth of food they and other volunteers ate because the store they were at didn’t take credit cards and he was appreciative of their volunteerism.
“After seeing what we saw, to have someone be that nice to us brought me to tears,” Davis said
“It was different than the small town life we live here.”
Jones said she was glad to be home, but would go again if needed. King felt the same way, adding that everyone should have such an experience.
“The feeling of helping people and seeing how you’ve impacted their lives makes you look at life differently,” she said.
Davis agreed it was a gratifying, eye-opening experience.
“It made me see things I take for granted in my daily life,” she said “It made me very proud; also, very proud of the people I was with.
“It was definitely life changing. It’s something I want to continue doing. I enjoy my job. I enjoy what I do.”