Answering the call for help from the American Red Cross & the needs of many displaced by Hurricane Harvey, eight senior BSN nursing students from the S.E. Campus of East Central University volunteered for service. Leaving friends, family and the comforts of home they offered their skills, their time and their expertise for 10 days. Jumping at the challenge, these first responders were essentially heading for the unknown.
(Editorial note: because of the need to protect identities, students did not write about any specific individuals or situations.)
Well into their days of service one of the students, Ashley Johnson, texted the following: “This experience is not only eye opening but life changing for me. It truly brings into perspective the importance of holistic nursing and the impact that even one volunteer can make. I am a better nurse because of it”. In one situation Ashley talked to an individual who came to her for concerns about coughing and trouble sleeping. Upon assessment she determined that this person should see a physician immediately. After several hours on the phone she found a physician to evaluate this person. It turned out that the condition was critical but in the initial phases. The physician credited Ashley with the critical intervention that potentially saved a life.
Johnson also spent hours on the phone to try to reach Metro Lift and following deliberation, this organization agreed to provide transportation for shelter residents to the pharmacies and Urgent Care facilities as needed.
Bailey Goff spent several hours on the phone with pharmacies to urge them to participate in the “Harvey Plan”. The participants of this plan would include Walgreens, Wal-Mart & CVS. These businesses agreed under that plan to provide free medication refills to Harvey survivors, no matter the type or cost of medication. “Also, a lot of the things we did as a group were not necessarily ‘health’ related. We helped families find blankets, pillows and clothing when needed. Providing individuals with someone to talk to about their struggles and attempting to find a solution was also a main focus of our stay”.
Kendra Workman wrote: “During my time as a volunteer in Houston, I was able to assist many people just by listening and talking with them. I got to know some families whose stories were truly heartbreaking. They had nothing left yet remained in good spirits and this made it an honor to be able to serve them in any way we could. I felt that we were giving so little to people who had so much taken away from them.”
Dara Wesberry described her volunteering as “a great learning experience. We were able to work directly with families in the shelter, performing assessments and locating resources that they didn’t realize that anyone had access to. We found medical equipment, and even replacement eye glasses for those lost during the storm. It was an honor to be able to assist and comfort those we met during these most trying circumstances.”
Kacie Van Zant wrote the following: “My time helping survivors was a humbling experience. Witnessing the aftermath of this disaster first-hand, instead of just seeing it on TV, really hit home for me. The people we were able to help had lost so much yet were just happy to have their families and to be alive and safe. I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to do my small part for these kind people in their time of need. I will be forever grateful for this experience.”
Baylee Holbert described her volunteering as an “incredible experience which I will never forget. The Health Services Department in Houston made me feel as though I was an important part of their team. They were so welcoming. We spent most of our time in a ‘Mega shelter’ housing 2000 refugees. We just did whatever was needed at the time. Listening, comforting, reassuring, and communicating turned out to be very essential nursing skills.”
Crystal Emerson explained that “In disaster nursing with the Red Cross organization, student nurses work in clinical settings alongside licensed nurses to assess, triage, provide basic aid, follow-up on hospitalizations, coordinate replacement medications, arrange crucial transportation and coordinate medical care needs for victims of the disaster.” She stated that “each shelter came with its own unique set of challenges. Critical thinking skills and problem solving were essential tools utilized every day. Some of the displaced families we worked with had little or no financial means or resources. There was a huge demand for social services and someone for these displaced families to talk to and share their stories with at this early stage of recovery. I will never forget some of the families that I had the pleasure of meeting during our deployment. This has been an experience I will never forget and I look forward to working with the Red Cross again”. One of her classmates stated that Crystal also became an essential advocate for many simple things. She was able to locate much-needed shoes & clothing for several children at the shelter.
Kristy Calloway, Program Coordinator for the ECU@SE School of Nursing, wholeheartedly supported the students prior to, and during, their participation. “I am so proud of these seniors in giving of their time to serve others. This is the true heart of nursing. The eight who volunteered to participate with the Red Cross in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey exemplify what we desire our students and our future nurses to be. Nursing is a career where the professional has to look beyond self and do things that they are not always sure they are capable of. Among other things, this is what makes nursing such a rewarding career choice. I truly believe that these students experienced this first hand.”