After Hurricane Harvey's devastation in Texas and Hurricane Irma en route to Florida after tearing up parts of the Caribbean, the American Red Cross has been training volunteers for deployment. The organization has been holding boot camps, including in New York, to train volunteers. The latest was Thursday in Poughkeepsie.
The American Red Cross of Eastern New York began holding boot camps August 29, in Albany, training volunteers for rapid deployment to Texas to help people impacted by Hurricane Harvey. The non-profit organization also has been readying to respond to Hurricane Irma in Florida. Sandy Fisher of Red Hook attended the Poughkeepsie training at Marist College.
“I can’t imagine not trying to help out,” Fisher says. “It’s just so compelling, the urgency and the difficulties that the people are having. And I just felt that it was the time to do this.”
Jim Frazer of Woodstock says it’s his time to give back.
“Well, I used to work for major utility company and I worked down at Katrina fir 30 days and I’d actually seen what the devastation would be .So it’s now my turn to help out a little bit without being paid,” Frazer says. “And I’ve been through numerous ice storms in upstate New York and stuff like that. And I think it’s just time to try to help out the people out there. I have friends down in Florida. I have family in Texas, so I think it’s just my time to help out.”
The former Verizon worker says his current employer, Ceres Technologies in Saugerties, has allowed him the time for deployment. Frazer, who is getting set to retire from Ceres, intends to volunteer well after the current hurricane season.
“This is going to be my stepping stone for helping out the community,” Frazer says.
Kelly Formoso is disaster program manager of the Mid-Hudson Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross. She says the training focuses on sheltering and supporting people’s basic needs.
“So we recently deployed one of our volunteers from the North Country. That individual is working with clients, serving their needs, supporting their emotions,” says Formoso. “And when she was at a shelter a couple of days ago she ended up saving a child from choking.”
She says prospective volunteers must be willing and able to serve in a disaster-affected area for a minimum of 14 consecutive days.
“We want them to be available from now till November. Looking for availability, we realize that we’re in just the beginning stages of Hurricane Harvey’s disaster relief operation and now we are starting Hurricane Irma’s disaster relief operation,” Formoso says. “And then we know that there’s other storms that are heading are way.”
Formoso says the region held boot camps last year for Hurricane Matthew relief and for Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Sherri Mackey of New Paltz says she is ready to help.
“And I’m also a volunteer firefighter in Clintondale, an EMT,” says Mackey. “I’ve donated bone marrow, I saved a little girl, so it’s just in my blood, I think.”
Plus, her kids are grown and the timing is right. Dr. James Halpern, founder of the Institute for Disaster Mental Health at SUNY New Paltz and a veteran Red Cross worker, spoke to trainees about the importance of self care during deployment.
“I think the most important message is that people cope with stress differently and that you need to figure out for yourself what works for you in terms of keeping yourself calm and connected and remember to use that,” Halpern says. “So, it may be prayer, could be meditation or yoga.”
Or a host of other outlets. Joe DiCaprio of Poughkeepsie also attended the training.
“Well, when you see other people in trouble, what else is there,” DiCaprio says. “Help them. That’s it.”
Dr. Geoffrey Brackett is executive vice president of Marist. He says holding the training on campus goes hand in hand with the college’s commitment to service.
“We’ve got a very engaged community,” Brackett says. “Students, faculty, staff often are engaged locally, regionally and, in cases of extreme issues such as Hurricane Harvey and potentially Irma, nationally as well.”
The Red Cross is holding two more boot camps in the Eastern New York region. One is September 9 at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Utica. The other is September 13 at Saratoga Music Hall.
Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Thursday announced deployment of a team from the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard to the U.S. Virgin Islands to assist in the response to Hurricane Irma. Plus, 35 members from a specially trained task force equipped for urban search and rescue will head to Florida. Cuomo spoke with the governor of Puerto Rico and his staff is in communication with officials in the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean nations to offer assistance with Irma recovery.
And, further south in the Hudson Valley, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino will speak Friday about his county’s preparedness. He also is hosting a preparedness training exercise for municipal officials.