NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:
I came from Edgecomb, Maine, as a disaster mental health worker for the Red Cross to help in the Oklahoma tornadoes relief.
Upon my arrival May 27, the damage witnessed was more than one could have imagined. Miles and miles of devastation: homes, businesses, schools and even a hospital all destroyed or damaged beyond belief. Homes, cars, trucks and trees were left as piles of rubble and debris in every direction.
My deployment began in Shawnee as a team member going out in the community to help homeowners and citizens in their environment. Shortly thereafter, I was assigned to Westmoore High School in Moore.
Moore is the community that was ambushed by the EF-5 tornado May 20, suffering major devastation. The high school became the Multiple Agency Resource Center.
The MARC was one of four resources in Oklahoma helping people recover and begin to heal from their losses.
Losses included loved ones: spouses, children, relatives, neighbors and pets. Losses also included homes, cars and possessions of all kind, ranging from sacred items to every belonging owned.
While there, we experienced four more tornadoes from May 28 through May 31.
Volunteers were exposed to the threat of destruction and physical harm from winds more than 200 mph, massive thunder and lightning, plus six inches of rain, which only served to hamper movement and created emotional crisis, anxiety and fear for volunteers and storm survivors alike.
Our work at the MARC was the process to helping victims begin their recovery by assisting from the initial registration and progressing through exploration of the various resources at their disposal.
On average, 25 agencies provided services to these needy victims: Red Cross, FEMA, Catholic Charities, Southern Baptist Ministries, Salvation Army, Veterans Affairs, Vet Centers, Oklahoma Housing Authority, local counseling agencies, food banks, shelters and local churches of all denominations.
A formal process of assistance was established from identification of the person, validation of their losses and then assignment of assistance.
Tornado survivors received help from various agencies. Agencies offered funds, temporary housing, food, clothing, medical services, prescriptions, legal services and the like.
Throughout my time at WMHS, approximately 500 victims were helped every day by some 100 volunteers and paid staff from all the resources present.
My role was to be a supportive mental health worker available to provide support, encouragement, grief counseling and healing for the trauma victim’s experienced.
What was most amazing as I worked with these people, men, women, children of all ethnic backgrounds, faiths, cultures and beliefs, was that they thanked me “For being there from Maine to help us.”
What I experienced was a sense of humility, caring and love from people who suffered and lost everything, including their children, relatives, loves ones, pets and possessions.
They were spiritual, religious, giving people who demonstrated tolerance, stamina, strong resiliency and spirit for their survival through a belief system that was so needed.
The tornado survivors treated me with the utmost respect and kindness whenever we talked or counseled over their issues, needs and future plans to recover, including where to live, with the goal of returning to work and a sense of normalcy.
Their goal was to take control and once again live their lives and reclaim the many roles they had to assume. In their time of need, these wonderful Oklahomans offered tremendous spirit, love, caring and humility.
They were an example of resiliency, stamina and belief that was inspirational and meaningful to this private individual and professional in the midst of their environment.
I went to Oklahoma as a Red Cross volunteer and returned home having witnessing humility, caring and strength that I could not have imagined.
To these wonderful people of Oklahoma, I owe tremendous thanks.
In essence, they gave me hope and belief in people and an understanding of the “Oklahoma Standard,” which made them strong and resourceful in their belief in people, caring, love and God. They make Oklahoma strong, viable and able to begin their recovery and healing.
May we all learn from the humility and humanity witnessed and experienced in Moore. I pray this humility and humanity affects all of us throughout this wonderful country of ours.
As a result of my Red Cross deployment, I grew as a person and came home with a” lesson in humility,” as taught by these fine Oklahoma people to whom I am so indebted.
Jack Sarmanian, EdD, LCSW