After a natural disaster ravages an area, the American Red Cross deploys thousands of volunteers to help those left in its wake. While volunteers take on many different roles and tasks, Dr. Amy Stevens of Marietta uses her special talents to help in perhaps the most important way: She provides hope.
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The certified professional counselor has been a volunteer with the Red Cross for 20 years and has helped countless natural disaster victims, evacuees living in shelters and their family members through immediate, short-term counseling.
“I just have a niche of being able to deal with chaos,” Stevens said.
In her private practice, the vivacious and fearless counselor is employed on a contract basis by companies whose employees are dealing with tragedy or post-traumatic stress.
“Chaos is not something everyone can do,” she said. “It’s bringing the calm. People are upset, they’re in shock, so you bring that calm to a point where they can help themselves. I’m not going to ask you about your childhood, but I’m going to be with you right now and say, ‘Let’s talk about what’s happening right now and get through this.’ Your brain is going crazy. That’s a normal reaction to stress. So I’m helping them cope with a normal reaction to something that doesn’t make sense. Bad things shouldn’t happen, but unfortunately, they do.”
From Sept. 9 to Sept. 27, Stevens served in Augusta, Savannah and the Florida Keys, helping those deal with losses of lives, homes, medications and belongings after hurricanes and storms swept through the areas. Stevens spent most of her time in shelters, helping those who had been displaced from their homes and families.
“A lot of people are in distress,” Stevens said. “Shelter life is not fun. Everyone is sleeping on a cot, and it’s very difficult for them. There is trauma with your life being so disrupted. It’s difficult because they worry about what happened during the disaster and the future, and they can get very upset. We bring the calm and help them focus on what they need right now, whether it’s to contact their family or get food or let them vent. With hundreds of people in the room with you that you’ve never met before, sleeping on cots lined up right next to each other, it’s a huge adjustment. A majority of them don’t have mental health issues, but they’re stressed and upset.”
While in the Keys, Stevens said she received a call from other Red Cross volunteers that a 92-year-old man they met could likely use her help. When she arrived, his shack was in shambles, but he seemed to be in fairly good spirits.
“He was fine, physically, for the most part, just stubborn,” Stevens said. “We developed a little bit of a relationship, so I was able to get him to finally accept medical help for some of his wounds. Then it was about condolence. His son lived in an apartment building across the street that was concrete and he stayed with his son during the storm. After the storm, his son was helping other people and injured himself badly enough to go to the hospital. He died two days later. So this man was dealing with a lot.”
Back at home in Marietta, Stevens continues to be on call with the Red Cross to assist people who survived the storms but are arriving in planes at Dobbins Air Reserve Base to receive medical help.
Stevens said major storms such as Hurricane Irma bring focus and attention to the need for volunteers, but that the Red Cross deploys volunteers all over the country every day to help those in need.
“I’m a faith-based person, so I believe in giving back because I feel I have been blessed in my life,” Stevens said. “Volunteering is like breathing — I can’t stop myself from doing it. My son doesn’t understand, but it’s just a natural thing and a part of who I am. I want to encourage people to find some way to give back to donate or volunteer and, for me, in Marietta, the Red Cross has been the one that is the best match for me. We can always use more people, too. I look at it as, ‘If not me, then who?’ so I’m happy to do it.”