Friday, May 22, 2015

Jennifer's deployment story

Jennifer Schaefer

Jennifer Schaefer of Syracuse recently returned after spending a week in Oklahoma, volunteering with Health Services as part of the Red Cross response to recent severe weather. We asked the registered nurse, who volunteers regularly with the Greater Rochester Chapter, to share her experience. Even though she says, "I always hate when people ask what I do on a deployment. I usually forget exactly what I do, to be honest. It is just a blur of days, people, late nights and early mornings," she provided this first-hand account of just one day on a deployment.

Deployment Day Two - Oklahoma City Disaster Response Operation:

Oklahoma Tornado damage. Photo credit: Jennifer Schaefer
It is always hard to describe what I do when people ask. I hold people's hands while they cry about losing their homes, family heirlooms, pets and loved ones. I make sure that the elderly woman who has not eaten in two days because she is living in a home with no electricity or working gas gets a hot meal, a promise of more hot meals and the option of a safer place to stay. 

I talk to other volunteers. I genuinely want to get to know my fellow Red Cross friends, but being a nurse puts a twist on social interaction. Being a nurse on a deployment means every interaction is evaluated, every person's needs are checked. I ended up pulling a volunteer off the job today because he was trying to work his shift after having an eye exam that left his vision blurry. These volunteers never think about themselves, so it is my job to always ask and evaluate.
As a nurse, there is no "downtime." I am checking on my roommate as she shares about her day. I ask my waitress at breakfast how the storms have affected her life and community. I even self-check. I    make time to go to the gym or talk to my family. I give hugs, rides to fellow volunteers and advice. I say, "Thank You. Thank You. Thank You." 

Oklahoma Tornado damage. Photo credit: Jennifer Schaefer
It is hard to worry yourself, about your own problems, when you see the destroyed homes and children's toys broken and upturned. It is difficult to hold back the tears sometimes, but most of all it is difficult to not be grateful. I can see how lucky I truly am and that is what keeps me coming back.

I not only help others rebuild their lives but I rebuilt my own. I started volunteering after I lost two loved ones, a job and a relationship in a short period of time. I was lost and more depressed then I had ever been in my life. That was over a year and a half ago. Today, I have my dream job working with the New York State Department of Health. I get to help children be safer and healthier every day, and you know why I got the job?  The people I interviewed with valued my volunteer service. The American Red Cross turned my life around and helped me find my true calling in my darkest moments. So what else can I say but thank you...

No, Jennifer. Thank YOU for all you do for the Red Cross and the community. Welcome home!

If Jennifer's story has inspired you, click here to learn more about how you can become a Red Cross volunteer!