Chris Tokarz began volunteering at the Greater Cincinnati-Dayton Region Chapter in December 2013. She retired earlier in the year and wanted to do something to give back to those in need. She was deployed to the Arkansas site.
“I got the call from the Red Cross asking if I was available to be deployed to Arkansas May 2 and I quickly agreed to go,” says Tokarz. She then contacted the Red Cross travel agency to arrange her flight from Dayton to Hot Springs Arkansas. “I pulled out the handouts I received when I took the deployment orientation workshop class and read through the list of materials to bring, “says Tokarz. “Next, I drove to the Dayton Red Cross and met with Kathy Gall who gave me the Credit Card, tee shirt, vest and lots of advice on being deployed for the first time.”
“I got out my disaster mental health services handbook and begin reviewing it,” says Tokarz. She then emailed family and friends to let them know she would be gone and asked for their support for the Red Cross during this time. The next day she finished packing and headed for the airport in Dayton, hoping she didn’t forget anything important.
“I assumed that I would be staying in a staff shelter and wonder if I would be able to sleep,” says Tokarz. “When I got to the airport I called the telephone number given to me and I heard a recording asking me to get a rental car and drive to the Comfort Inn in Little Rock.” In the line for the rental car there were two other Red Cross volunteers so they all decided to carpool together. “I checked in, a bit surprised that I had the luxury of a hotel room,” says Tokarz adding that she had a roommate who was also a first time deployment volunteer. “We agreed to head to the Little Rock Red Cross at 7:30 the next morning to check in and get our assignment for the days ahead.”
“I meet with mental health to find out my role and attend the morning briefing,” explains Tokarz.
“I was included with a group of disaster mental health workers to Conway, Arkansas to the Multi Agency Relief Center (MARC).” Tokarz discovered that she was a part of an outreach team and would be working with another disaster mental health worker and case management driving the streets of Vilonia.
Tokarz goes on to say that she had never witnessed the destruction of a tornado first hand before, and it was shocking to see the devastation. “My job was to talk with clients and let them tell their story, reinforce their resiliency and help them make a plan to get through the next day or two,” says Tokarz. “I am amazed at the positive attitude the people of Vilonia have.”
Throughout the week Tokarz was able to see so many examples of neighbors and strangers lending a helping hand. The Red Cross, churches and agencies set up food pantries and places to get clothing. “Red Cross ERV’s circle the area, bringing lunch and dinner to those working in the field, which is greatly appreciated by the families sorting through rubble for their possessions,” explains Tokarz
“During the week Tokarz worked from 7:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. where she was assigned (outreach, Marc, or hospital visits). “I worked as a part of a team with nurses, client casework, and disaster mental health workers,” says Tokarz.
“This experience was so amazing,” says Tokarz. “I came away with a renewed sense that people are willing to do whatever they can to support each other and that life is good.”