Thursday, June 29, 2017

Disaster. A Reason to Smile?

There is one thing disasters have in common with the American Red Cross: when it comes to impartiality, there is no doubt, both a disaster and our humanitarian response to it are equal. By our definition, impartiality is to "make no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions."
While a disaster shows no discrimination in inflicting suffering, loss, and chaos, the American Red Cross "endeavors to relieve the suffering of individuals, being guided solely by their needs, and to give priority to the most urgent cases of distress." 

Just as disaster isn't partial to who it affects, it also knows no holiday and will strike at any time, day or night; in this case, on Father's Day, as families were gathering to celebrate and enjoy their day together. On the afternoon of June 18, 2017 in Lakewood CO, 88 people were displaced by a roof collapse at Maplewood Village Apartment Complex.

 Working with the apartment complex property owner, Red Cross helped secure short term accommodations with a local Motel6 from June 19 through June 26. Red Cross and partner agencies, such as The Salvation Army, LDS Church, and Jimmy Johns, worked together throughout that time to provide meals and snacks each day while the families were sheltering at the local motel. "Jimmy Johns was a real treat," said Jael, who wanted to be sure were given a big thanks for being such great community partners. 

Additionally, Red Cross gave direct financial assistance to meet the immediate needs of  and provided for emotional and medical support to those who needed it. The property owner of the apartment complex had provided the motel rooms through the morning of June 26, while working diligently with contractors and city officials to determine next steps for the repairs of the two buildings. 

Unfortunately, the news was not what he had hoped for, and on Monday morning the residents were still unable to return to either of the buildings at the apartment complex. Volunteers were "Red Cross Ready" and a short-term shelter was opened for those who still had no place identified for long term housing. The shelter opened from Monday, June 26 to Friday, June 30 through a partnership with JeffCo School District. 

As part of the support and recovery process, St. Bernadette’s Catholic Church and American Red Cross hosted a Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) on Tuesday, June 27, 2017.  The MARC brought together different agencies for clients to gather more information about housing, food, clothing, household goods, economic development, job opportunities, early childhood education, and provided customized resource information for each client through individual casework.  Translation services were provided by volunteers from St. Bernadette’s and the LDS Church. The agencies that participated in this one day event were: Jefferson County Human Services, Jefferson County Housing Authority, Father Woody’s, Mi Casa, Mile High United Way (211), City of Lakewood Family Services (ECE/HS), JeffCo Action Center and the American Red Cross. What a great example of how partners and the community all came together to give help and hope. We really are #BetterTogether
The MARC served 12 families, 45 people total, which is more than half the total number of residents who were displaced by this non-traditional disaster.

Moving forward, Red Cross caseworkers will continue to provide support to these families by doing follow up work to ensure individuals have a clear path to recovery. Housing continues to be the highest unmet need with concerns about storage being second, though many of the residents have secured housing and are already on the road to recovery.

The past few weeks have been filled with many challenges for the families who lost their homes on this Father's Day Disaster. Their lives have forever been changed, though they will move forward to embrace what will become their "new normal."

In this work, I meet people who inspire me. People who remind me our situations can truly make us bitter, or make us better; that our attitude is the only thing we can control through all the ups and downs of life. One of these inspiring people is Jael, who has been a true ambassador for her community through this entire disaster. When nobody knew who to call or where to turn for help, she remembered her mom telling her how the Red Cross had helped one of her family members years ago. She took action to help her neighbors and her family. As we sat and talked one afternoon at the motel, she said to me, "We're just taking one day at a time right now, but this week has given me an opportunity to really look at what the future could be for me and my husband and our little girl. Maybe a change is what we needed." 

Roy T. Bennett once said,  "Be the reason someone smiles. Be the reason someone feels loved and believes in the goodness in people." It is the mission of the American Red Cross, while alleviating human suffering, to be the reason someone smiles. It is our hope that the generosity of donors and the power of volunteers will be the reason Jael and Samantha feel loved and believe in the goodness of people. 

*UPDATE 6/30/2017: Jael contacted Red Cross today to let us know that she and her husband and Samantha had been approved for a new apartment. They are very excited and thankful for all the help to get them started in this new place, moving in this new direction. 

Story and photos by: Nigel Holderby, Director of Communication American Red Cross of Colorado & Wyoming 
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCrossDenver 

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