Greenwich psychologist Adele McDowell shipped out to volunteer in crisis intervention in Joplin, Mo., a town turned to ruins by a destructive tornado that hit last month.
My first assignment was outreach, and when I saw Joplin in broad daylight, all I could say was, Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, over and over, said McDowell, who was sitting in a car blasting the air conditioning to stay cool in the nearly 100-degree heat outside the shelter.
Texas native McDowell, a longtime volunteer with the Greenwich chapter of the American Red Cross and a trained psychologist, deployed last week. She is using her experiences from relief in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in disaster mental health to help in the wake of the devastating tornado that hid the Midwest town Sunday, May 22.
In the first few days of outreach, McDowell was faced with storms destruction and not just of buildings. One of the worst stories Ive heard was about a mom and a dad who were going to their childs graduation. They took separate cars. The dad was with their infant and the mom was with their 4-year-old. When the storm came, they watched their infant being taken away in it, said McDowell. People need to talk and once they get to know you, they open up because their lives are changed forever.
McDowell is working at the Red Cross shelter at Missouri Southern State University, where President Obama spoke just last week. She said 524 people there, including mothers and their children, the elderly and others, with more people arriving. I understand the church shelter is closing, and there are still people living in what are considered condemned houses, said McDowell. They have no windows, no water, no electricity. But some people just dont want to leave what they call home.
The shelter provides three meals a day, snacks, health-care services, computers set up by AT&T, cell phone charging stations and tables where the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state attorney general are set up to help pay for funeral costs and make sure people are not being price gauged for necessities.
Volunteers from all over the country are working and living together to help clean up what they can and support the people there. I was talking to a guy yesterday who came from Colorado. He looks just like Bruce Willis, and he had been cleaning up debris all day and his eyes were just filled with tears. He was knee deep in the debris of peoples lives, she said. Apparently this guy has had a tough life. For him, this is redemption.
Residents regularly thank McDowell and other volunteers for their help. My response is always, 'You dont understand what youre doing for us,' she said. I dont know yet how this will change me, but Im sure it will. It opens your heart and makes you realize what is important.
Do you know anyone from Greenwich volunteering in disaster relief efforts in Joplin? Comment below or send responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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