Katrina's Angels

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Survivors Choosing Love Over Fear

Date: 10/9/2005

Survivors Choosing Love Over Fear
Written by Kim Cook , Special to Redcross.org

Monday, October 03, 2005 — One happy, but surprising, phenomenon following the devastating Hurricane Katrina was the outbreak of weddings in American Red Cross shelters.

“To get married is perhaps the strongest statement we can have, short of having a child, that you believe in the future,” said Earl Johnson, coordinator of the American Red Cross Spiritual Care Response Team. “You’re choosing love over fear.”

Whether it is a ritual like a wedding or baptism, the mourning a lost family member or a friend, the volunteers of the Red Cross spiritual care partner teams help people deal with their feelings.

“These are catalytic events and what a spiritual care professional does is help people understand the meaning of the event and also help the process the feelings,” he said.

Dressed in full length white satin gowns and white tuxedos, two couples, Darlene Bordes and Darrel Jones and Subrena Simon and Wallace Patterson were married on Saturday, Sept. 17, in the American Red Cross Shelter in Pineville, La.
(Photo Credit: Christine Berge/American Red Cross)

David and Maria Tucker were just one of dozens of evacuee couples who married in the aftermath. Building 1536, KellyUSA Development Authority, San Antonio was their chapel. The two had spent three days in their flooded home in Mid City, La., before being taken by helicopter and then bus to San Antonio.

Watching the water rise in their homes, Maria was sure they would die together. After the dramatic rescue, the couple decided they didn’t want to delay getting married any longer. The two wed in the small chapel created within the cavernous relief center. She wore a wedding dress donated to the shelter, while he found a nice suit among the stacks. A volunteer fixed Maria’s hair and other evacuee shelter residents hummed “The Wedding March.” A Texas State Guard chaplain performed the ceremony.

Traumatic events prompt people to search for what is truly meaningful in their lives, according to Johnson. While the loss of a home and possessions is important, during a disaster many often realize that their family is what they value most. “[Marriage] is a very hopeful act. It’s a way of believing in the future and taking steps,” he explained.

The Red Cross takes a non-sectarian and humanitarian approach to its emotional and spiritual assistance.

Johnson coordinates volunteers from nine professional chaplain organizations that have partnered with the American Red Cross since 1996, when a Trans World Airlines jet crashed off Long Island, N.Y. Families of victims in that tragedy were inundated with well-meaning people and those with less altruistic motives, who wanted to cash-in and benefit from the suffering of others. That prompted Congress to pass the Aviation Family Assistance Act of 1996 that said that the emotional needs of families, as well as the physical, needed to be addressed. This eventually led to creation of the Spiritual Care Aviation Incident Response Team as the Red Cross partner.

Since then this interfaith group has been deployed 14 times, including following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to help with emotional and spiritual support after a disaster.

“They are a nationally-managed, nationally-tasked group that responds to aviation and other mass casualty events, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism or by government request,” Johnson explained.

After their August 20th wedding, Nathan and Shanna Hunt were quickly trained at the Yolo Red Cross Chapter in Woodland, Calif., and soon boarded a plane for Houston to do what they could to help Hurricane Katrina survivors.
(Photo Credit: Michael Seamans/American Red Cross)

Besides those who are stepping up to the altar to say “I do,” some recently married volunteers have opted to spend their honeymoons comforting evacuees.

Newlyweds Nathan and Shanna Hunt, after watching television reports showing those suffering because of Hurricane Katrina, volunteered at the Red Cross chapter in Woodland, Calif., and flew to Houston to help set up a new service center.

“It was completely amazing,” said Nathan. “One minute it was a construction site – 24 hours later – an up and running operation servicing from 4,000 to 8,000 families a day.”

For volunteers, the experience can help them realize a broader sense of purpose to their lives, according to Johnson.

“You love someone. You get married and you are laying down the framework of your life together. How do you want to spend that new life together?” he said.

Kim Cook is a volunteer writer with the American Red Cross national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. You can help the victims of recents disasters and thousands of other disasters across the country each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, counseling and other assistance to those in need. Call 1-800-HELP NOW or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P. O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster please do so at the time of your donation.