Red Cross volunteer Carl Manning of the Greater Kansas City Chapter recently was deployed as part of the Public Affairs team assigned to the Gatlinburg, Tennessee wildfire. These stories show some of the ways the Red Cross was able to help those affected by the fire
By Carl Manning
American Red Cross
Carol Lilleaas was sitting on her cot in the American Red Cross shelter in Gatlinburg, Tennessee where she has been since her home and just about everything in it was reduced to ashes from the wildfire that swept through the area.
Lee Ragsdale, a member of the Red Cross spiritual care team, saw her sitting there and joined her on the cot. Their talk started as a few words that ins short order blossomed into a fully animated conversation. In a few minutes she was smiling for the first time since she had arrived at the shelter.
She explained that the only thing she really regretted losing in the fire was the U.S. flag that covered the coffin of her career Army husband when he died 12 years ago.
“I woke up in the middle of the night, thought about it and start crying. It was the only thing that made me cry,” she said.
While Lee wouldn’t discuss specifics of his conversation with her, he did say that she’s a strong woman.
“I just reminded her of her strength and reassured her that she was capable and that she shouldn’t feel ashamed asking for help,” Lee said.
An ordained Episcopal deacon, Lee also is a Knoxville Police Department chaplain. This is his first time as a member of the Red Cross disaster spiritual care team and said he’s enjoying being able to help those in need.
“It was everything that I thought it was going to be and more. I’m essentially in awe of what’s going on,” he said.
Spiritual care is about reaching out to people and helping them overcome their adversities, whether it’s with a conversation or helping with such things as getting a wheelchair fixed or finding food for the family dog.
All spiritual care responders are trained to provide appropriate and respectful disaster spiritual care in line with Red Cross fundamental principles of impartiality and neutrality. It’s best to let the survivors follow their own beliefs. Some welcome prayer while others don’t.
“Praying isn’t necessary. If they don’t ask, then I don’t push it,” Lee said. “Whatever brings comfort to them, I’m always willing to facilitate,” he said. “The first thing is to be there for them and really listen and understand and let them know that.”
He said when people feel they are being understood, it enables them to open up and discuss their emotions and other issues.
“If I can help them to move from awareness to acceptance and finally to action, then I’ve helped to promote that healing they need,” he said.