Monday, August 24, 2015

Volunteers Reflect on the Love they Shared in Response to Hurricane Katrina

This week, in honor of the 10 years that have passed since Hurricane Katrina struck, we are remembering those whose lives were impacted, honoring the resiliency of the community, thanking those who stepped up to help, and reflecting on lessons learned and applied in the decade since.

Story and photos by Janet Koelling

Hurricane Katrina caused widespread devastation and loss.  When the Red Cross announced they needed 40,000 volunteers, it perked the attention of Ft. Collins resident Connie Hoffer. As a recently retired nurse, Connie stepped forth to offer her skills, took part in preparatory Red Cross courses, and within a few days, was deployed to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Connie’s husband, Roger Hoffer, a retired college professor, also wanted to help with the Katrina recovery effort.  When he learned that the Red Cross needed client case workers, he willingly volunteered.  Though he had no previous experience in this type of work, he received Red Cross training and began his Katrina service in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  Evacuees from Gulfport Mississippi, and from other devastated Mississippi areas, were being relocated to shelters in Hattiesburg.

Roger remembers, “Each morning, 500 people were waiting in line to get help. Twenty volunteers were doing client case work. We determined immediate needs for food, clothing, and housing, and provided aid accordingly.”

Roger describes a woman in tears, whose home was severely damaged. While she had worked tirelessly to seal the front door to avoid flooding, the hurricane tore the tar paper off her roof. What gratitude she expressed when she found the Red Cross could assist her in making the replacement.

Connie’s role was to assist people in meeting their medical needs. She visited with clients in the shelter to find out what medication they needed and called in prescriptions to be picked up at the pharmacy.

Occasionally, there are pro-bono offers for which the Red Cross makes referrals. A woman with very painfully infected teeth was grateful and relieved when Connie referred her to a local dentist who donated his services, and pulled the offending culprits. Another young mother had just come out of having a C-Section. Connie and the other medical personnel assured that the baby had appropriate care and feeding.

Another satisfying reward for Connie is the life-long friendships that have been formed by the team efforts adding, “Working toward a common goal is a very bonding experience,” Connie said.

Eventually, the Red Cross moved Roger to Baker, Louisiana, where he could join his wife Connie by working in the shelter’s kitchen. One morning when Roger offered a breakfast roll to a client, the man expressed what a great shelter it was. When asked what made it so, he replied, “It’s the love, man, the love.”

Both Roger and Connie’s lives have been changed by their Red Cross volunteer service. Since Katrina, they have responded to a dozen major national disasters. They also serve at local and regional shelters and recovery efforts.  The Hoffers teach Red Cross classes and have received various recognitions for their volunteer contributions. Recently, Connie was awarded the Clara Barton Honor Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership.  Both express their appreciation in living this chapter of their lives, saying, “It’s great to be a small part of a big, wonderful, complex organization like the Red Cross. Volunteering is very rewarding. It is wonderful to help others in need.”

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