GriefSpeak: American Red Cross Second Responders Needed

By Dr. Mari Dias

Rosa, an elderly woman, always accompanied by her walker and oxygen tank left a pot on the stove and took a little nap.

The family of seven who declined help to install smoke alarms, missed the symptomatic evidence and never smelled the smoke.

A city ravaged by floods whose residents are powerless to save their property.

These are only a few examples of our clients at the American Red Cross, Territory 6. T6 serves people of Rhode Island and Seekonk, Massachusetts.

We are second responders, called in by first responders when people have been displaced due to a disaster. Big or small, we offer comfort, compassion and financial support to people who have experienced the loss of their homes. Family photos, objects valuable only to them, everything they have worked for is now gone. This displacement is a non-finite loss, and those affected grieve this loss.

I am a volunteer with T6. The varied amount of areas for volunteerism is extraordinary – I serve on both the DAT and the ICCT teams. DAT is the Disaster Action Team who respond to local disasters or can be deployed to long term displacement by setting up shelters. ICCT is an acronym for Integrated Care and Condolence Team. We respond to people who have experienced a loss of a family member (Sandy Hook) or a missing person.

About 90% of the American Red Cross is comprised of volunteers. We respond to any disaster when contacted by police, fire and rescue. The position of a Red Cross Volunteer is both rewarding and humbling. People are scared, anxious, and lost.

“What about my medication?” “My bible is still in the apartment; can you go in and get it for me?” “I don’t have any food.” Where will I sleep?” “I don’t have any clothes and it’s freezing outside.”

We arrive in our Red Cross van with blankets, snacks and water as we assure them that we are there to help them. We supply financial support for a hotel room, call appropriate contacts to get them their medication, and supply donated items. The physical and psychological needs are addressed on site even before people are transferred to a warm space.

In both local and national disasters, we set up shelters with volunteers who serve as clerical, intake, case managers, mental health workers, and cooks. We work with local agencies to provide what has been lost and identify needed services. We also provide pet shelters for long term displacement and create activities for children in the shelter. We also have an international Disaster Action Team for those who prefer to respond to disasters overseas.

Whatever first responders identify as needs; we are there for them. There is no cost to volunteer. All travel and meals and lodging are provided by the Red Cross. Anytime is a good time to volunteer, but as we are on the cusp of 2020, I invite you to consider this opportunity. Giving of ourselves is a rich experience. Please join me in helping people survive these devasting losses.

You will sleep well.

The American Red Cross, Rhode Island Chapter (T6) office is located at 100 Niantic Avenue, Suite A, in Providence, Rhode Island. The phone number is 401-831-7700. Phil Stocking is the Senior Director of Disaster Cycle Services, T6.

I thank you.

Dr. Mari Dias is a nationally board-certified counselor, holds a Fellow in Thanatology and is certified in both grief counseling and complicated grief.

She is Professor of Clinical Mental Health, Master of Science program, Johnson & Wales University. Dias is the director of GracePointe Grief Center, in North Kingstown, RI.  For more information, go to: