By Diane Toomey
Edited by Nancy Waddell
For Tom Delaney, after 30 years as a school psychologist for the Lake Washington School District, retiring in 2011 included taking some of his well-earned leisure time to volunteer at the American Red Cross Serving King County, in our Northwest Region. He has made a choice to help people deal with emotional stress and trauma after disasters.
Our talk with Tom probed why he decided to stay in the service field as a Red Cross Volunteer in Disaster Cycle Services.
How did you get started with the Red Cross?
Slowly. About three years ago, I started taking the online certification courses and then helping out with the Mass Care Service Group, which seeks out temporary shelter for people displaced by disasters. I spent some time as a shift supervisor at a temporary shelter being provided to victims of a large apartment fire on Capitol Hill.
What other roles have you held with the American Red Cross Serving King County?
I have been a member of the Media Relations group on the Communications team, a Caseworker, and a Disaster Mental Health Responder.
You have had a nice variety of experience over your three years. What are you doing now?
Currently, I spend about 4 ½ hours per week on Disaster Mental Health client casework. I am one of about a dozen active professionals in the volunteer pool providing assistance, referrals and tools to individuals affected by disasters. Also, I teach the Psychological First Aid class, which is a Red Cross requirement for volunteers involved in basic care of disaster victims.
When you say you are providing assistance to those people affected by disasters, what does that include?
It depends on the type of disaster. Natural events can be in some ways less problematic for people than human caused events. But every type has a different characteristic to it. On one end, things can happen that are very well forecast, like hurricanes. People track them for days. On the other end of the spectrum, like with earthquakes, they happen with no or little warning. In minutes you may lose everything. People are shocked and overwhelmed. The big step for them is to understand that their reaction is natural and not out of their control. By interviewing and talking with them, we can trigger their coping mechanisms and help them build a strategy for recovery.
Please recall a few volunteering experiences that were memorable.
I have been to several memorial services – the Washington landslide disaster memorial, the Wenatchee Valley Firefighters memorial and the Aurora Bridge Duck Boat accident – where I was able to provide Disaster Mental Health assistance to those who were affected by these disasters. The landslide memorial event was a particularly intense event for this small community, since so many of the community members were affected. Memorial events are difficult and it was my role as a Red Cross representative to help people understand their emotional reactions to these events as well as get them referrals and recovery tools for the longer term.
What are some of the unexpected rewards of volunteering with the Red Cross?
What I really like about volunteering with the Red Cross is the people. They are really marvelous people. Everybody is here because they want to be here; they are motivated, and it makes a huge difference. The Red Cross is the organization that reflects my values: it’s inclusive, multicultural and we are there to help others through difficult times.
What do you do for fun?
My wife Genny and I have two adult kids – a son in San Paulo, Brazil and a daughter in Manhattan, New York. I am recently a grandpa and I love to travel, garden and cook.
The Red Cross needs and appreciates disaster volunteers like Tom who give of their time and abilities to help others. To join the Red Cross team, visit redcross.org and click on Volunteer.