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Providing Hope and Help to Fire Disaster Victims
by Kay Tooley, ADRN Team Member on September 20th, 2011

It was clear, from the beginning, that the invitation from Austin Disaster Relief Network (ADRN) to join with their efforts was something Keith and I both felt. A pastor from our previous church had invited us to a fund-raising dinner for ADRN in late July, and after that evening, we were hooked. We went to the ADRN initial orientation, met with like-minded volunteers from The Church at Canyon Creek - under the capable leadership of Amy Goss - and we were off.

Having previously registered for a three-night CISM (Crisis Incident Stress Management) training session - there could not have been better timing. Fires ravaged Steiner Ranch, Leander, Pflugerville, Spicewood and Bastrop, and we were being trained in the literal 'afterglow' of these disasters.

I was ready and willing to go to Bastrop as they were opening up subdivisions daily for the residents to return and survey the damage to their homes. I have, however, a high-paced and challenging job. I had also recently used all of my vacation time for a trip to see our daughter in Lebanon. I conveyed my desire to serve during this pressing time of need to my HR department, and to my surprise, they called me in to tell me that someone had anonymously donated (we have over 600 employees) a day of vacation time for me to go to Bastrop and serve. What a gift!

Trained, with a vacation day off and ready to go, I went to Bastrop. Our team, with sheriff escort, entered the previously closed subdivisions of Bastrop. This was the first time the folks had been allowed to return to their homes... or lack thereof. In teams of two (made up of an ADRN volunteer and a pastor from an Austin-area church) we, along with assigned drivers, visited the homes where families were present.
We 'debriefed' (a series of carefully constructed questions designed to allow opportunity to vent/share/explore), visited with, shared bottled water/breathing masks, prayed with, handed out resource materials, filled out forms for those who wanted to be ‘adopted’ by one of the approximately 100 churches in the greater Austin area, and generally listened to their stories. Some were too shaken to talk, others cried, and we ran across the occasional individual whose home did not burn and they were struggling with “survivors guilt.”
FEMA appraisers, water and power companies, and Bastrop sheriff and Texas Public Safety personnel, made up the team of responders.
Utter devastation and destruction would be the best way to describe the area. Melted, stinky, black and gray, full of hazards, wayward lost animals and pets....very quite. Only an occasional helicopter passing over.

One thing that particularly stood out for me, as we listened to so many stories, was how many of these victims had numerous other issues they were dealing with: major health issues (many battling cancer), no insurance of any kind, collapsed family systems, recent deaths in their extended families, and so much more. It was clear there were several levels, in all the folks we debriefed, of crisis. They needed hope. They needed a listening ear. They needed to know help was available.

I came home feeling rather somber, reminded of the need we all have for hope, help and purpose amidst living this side of heaven.

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