During the recent wave of natural disasters, we tracked storms, compared earthquake magnitudes, watched the fiery destruction of houses and acreage. We saw victims amid flood waters, piles of rubble, charred ruins of beloved homes – all from the relative comfort of our fully-intact abodes.
Hurricane, earthquake, and fire reports no longer dominate the news. For millions of our fellow humans, however, the luxury of relegating sorrow and loss to anything but an ongoing struggle is impossible for these victims of nature’s strength.
Former colleagues with relatives in Houston made Facebook mention of the flooding after Hurricane Harvey. Becky Black’s son Matt and his family used the good fortune of little structural damage to open their home for three different sets of people in the storm aftermath. Church and neighborhood affiliations allowed families to remove ruined drywall and flooring while mounds of debris were trucked out. The hot, humid weather caused nose-assaulting odors and the unsettling possibility of mold. Difficulty in locating materials and contractors continues to make repairs and rebuilding all the more challenging.
Lynn Wallace White’s daughter, niece of my former student Rita Wallace Green, also lives in Houston. As general manager of a mall complex including stores and hotels, Aimee Geuy Braswell’s on-site presence was required for extended hours. Her normal 80-minute commute more than tripled, precluding for a week a daily return to her family. Every three hours, she and security employees inspected the entire area for break-ins and damage, with Aimee submitting a compulsory report to supervisors after each inspection. She arranged for evacuees and cleaned toilets – whatever was needed – and periodically caught quick naps, completely clothed. Fortunately, Aimee’s home escaped damage, except for a huge sinkhole that opened next door.
And the latest from my sister about her daughter-in-law’s parents in Puerto Rico: “Iliana’s parents are doing well, considering. They have irregular cellphone service and electricity…a couple of days with and then 2-3 days without. Joey, (my sister’s son) sent a water purifier and flashlights right after the storm on September 20. One box arrived last week; the other one is still in limbo. We sent non-perishable food on October 11; it arrived yesterday. Joey says things are slowly getting back to normal, but a new normal, not the old one…”
When I heard that Faith Weinert traveled to Florida after Hurricane Irma, I decided to contact her. During her GHS years, the Graham Elementary school nurse was a student in my classroom, a player on the volleyball court, and an actress portraying Annie Oakley and Dolly Levi on the musical stage. I eventually lost track of Faith, as she earned her nursing degree at Wright State and spent nine years in the emergency room at the Upper Valley Medical Center in Troy.
To fulfill her long-held goal of helping others, Faith signed up online with the Red Cross. Shortly after school started, she received notification to report to Orlando for assignment. Her participation in the usual 2-3 week period was impossible, but she was able to serve during a special nine-day program.
Impressed by the organization of the national Red Cross program, Faith finally arrived at a recreation-center-turned-shelter in Collier County, near Naples, at the southern end of Florida’s Gulf Coast. She, registrars, service personnel, and other nurses were on-call 24 hours a day. They slept short hours on cots, awakened whenever their help was needed.
With no doctors at the shelter, Faith and her nursing colleagues were called upon to make medical decisions. They performed triage and public health duties as evacuees arrived – including patients, in their hospital gowns, discharged from area hospitals, but unable to return home.
One frequent challenge concerned medicines. People arrived without prescriptions, requiring nurses to figure out medications and dosages – hampered as they were by the many closed pharmacies.
Florida’s large population of elderly people caused Faith great concern, as individuals facing daily living challenges in their own homes suffered further stress in the unfamiliar shelter environment. She observed their rapid psychological and physical decline resulting from displacement – all playing out during long periods of unreliable electrical service.
160 people of all ages and backgrounds populated the Collier shelter. Evacuees arrived with their own personal difficulties; emergency workers and police officers assigned to the shelter remained alert for drug and alcohol problems. However, even as Faith observed eye-opening situations harsh for the strongest person, her faith in mankind was more than restored as the people gathered in the shelter, needy themselves, looked out for and cared about each other.
When I asked Faith about the impact of her time in Florida, she talked about sharing her experiences with the students at GES. And then this brave and caring nurse, with her own share of life’s challenges, remarkably confided that the days she spent there helping people help each other “made me feel whole.” It meant the world to Faith to be able to repay the help and kindnesses she herself has received along her way.
At a time when our country and the world seem to lurch from crisis to crisis, I am comforted by the Matt Blacks willing to share their homes, the Aimee Braswells willing to fulfill job duties under extreme conditions, and the Faith Weinerts willing to share their skills with victims whose lives have been turned upside down.
If we can just all have Faith in each other…
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.