St. Croix Red Cross honored its volunteers Wednesday evening and announced its local recovery operations will continue for another two years on the island.
About 70 Red Cross volunteers and staff gathered at the Gertrude’s Restaurant on Hess Road for food and fellowship. Lilly Alvarez, the local Disaster Program manager, said in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, 235 St. Croix residents walked into their Castle Coakley headquarters to volunteer. And they have been working around the clock ever since.
“But the job is not over, we are in the recovery phase now,” she said. “Recovery means building our volunteer numbers, continuing training and preparing for the next hurricane season.”
She thanked local volunteers saying, “We cannot take care of our community if we don’t do it ourselves. The off-island volunteers deserve credit, but we held our own and looked after our own people.”
Alvarez, who has lived on St. Croix since she was 4 years-old, said many local volunteers considered their work at Red Cross as stress relief.
“They redirected their focus to helping others rather than concentrating on their own hurricane recovery,” she said.
John Duck has been on St. Croix since Sept. 3. A 14-year veteran of the Red Cross, he was one of the first staff to be assigned to the Virgin Islands as it became evident the area was directly in the path of Hurricane Irma. Duck was recently informed that he would spend another 18 months to two years on St. Croix with the upgraded title of executive director of disaster recovery.
“Volunteers are the bread and butter of our organization,” Duck said, adding, “More than 200 locals volunteered on St. Croix and about 100 were from other places.”
Duck praised the dedication of the local volunteers, their willingness to serve and their expertise in knowing the island and the culture. They were “critical to our executing the Red Cross mission.”
Duck said during this recovery phase the Red Cross will support the efforts of the Department of Human Services, the Health Department, the Department of Education and agencies serving the disabled population. He emphasized the organization’s support of the island’s children, helping them recover from the trauma they experienced during the hurricanes and the aftermath. He said they will work in the schools with teachers and students as well as their families.
One person critical to assisting local children cope is Anne Looby, a world renown trauma psychologist and humanitarian. Looby, an energetic 74-year-old, has been with the Red Cross since 1994 and on St. Croix for the past 30 days. She has been to Nepal working with child anti-trafficking organizations, spent two years at a Tibetan orphanage, is the president of the Foundation for African Children’s Education Inc., led medical teams to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake and recently placed first in her age group in a triathlon in California, where she lives.
Looby is already helping children in the schools. She has seen younger children exhibit regressive behavior, such as bed wetting, sleeping with a stuffed animal or doll, or sucking their thumbs. She said parents and teachers of teens should allow them to process the experience in a group setting with their peers and a trained adult.
“I love my mission, it’s my passion to work with children who are affected by trauma,” Looby said.
Becky McCorry is the Red Cross division disaster executive with oversight of the South East and Caribbean Region which includes Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U. S. Virgin Islands. She has been with the Red Cross for more than 20 years. She is the person who continually tracks the weather patterns and deploys advance teams to areas that will be impacted by hurricanes. “The 2017 hurricane season, Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate, stretched our resources across the nation,” McCorry said.
McCorry said the recovery period will also focus on improving the territory’s response. This includes improving the plan for moving supplies to the islands and storing them safely in a temperature-controlled environment.
“This is a challenge,” she said
As the Red Cross works to aid victims of hurricanes, Mc Corry reminded the community the importance of having their own plan for their families and look to out for their neighbors.
“People need to have their own personal plan and their own personal hurricane supplies. Then check on your neighbors and the elderly.”