Photo provided by American Red Cross
On call to help
ISLIP—Joyce Weaver has spent a good part of her working life lending an ear and her expertise in mental health to people who are in crisis. And even after she retired, she continued that work as a volunteer. In honor of Red Cross Month, on March 5, Weaver was presented with the Disaster Cycle Services Award for her work with the American Red Cross, Long Island Region. Michael deVulpillieres, communications officer for the organization, said regarding the recipient, “She’s an amazing woman who does great work.”
“I was surprised,” said Weaver upon hearing about the award. “But I was honored.”
Weaver is a licensed mental health counselor. After working for years in Suffolk County Department of Social Services, she went on to open her own private practice in East Islip. In the 1970s, she became the first coordinator of the newly organized Islip Hotline.
“I like working with people who have experienced a trauma,” she said. “I like helping them to get past it and put their lives back together.”
Although the American Red Cross had always appealed to her, she first felt the need to join them in their efforts back in 1996 after the TWA Flight 800 disaster, when many mental health counselors were deployed to assist the families of the victims of that plane crash. “I wanted to run right down there [to help]”, she said. However, her responsibilities at work made it impossible at the time. That opportunity became reachable upon her retirement in 2007.
Since that time, Weaver has answered the call for the Red Cross, both near and far. Weaver, a mother of two grown children and now a grandmother and great-grandmother, has traveled to help out during the Colorado wildfires in 2012, and she attended the victims of the 2011 tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri. When she travels, she said her husband Paul stays home and “holds down the fort.”
Closer to home, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy, Weaver walked door to door in the hardest hit areas and offered assistance on behalf of the American Red Cross. She was at the Brentwood home explosion several years ago and also the many house fires that have occurred all over the region. Two weeks ago, she was one of the counselors who responded to a fire in Sayville that took the life of a 90-year-old woman.
“After [a disaster or fire] people are in a state of shock and have trouble comprehending what’s happening,” she said. “I talk to them so they don’t suffer long-term consequences.” Weaver helps displaced individuals transition to a new environment. She also helps the other volunteers who have been through a traumatic deployment to “decompress” and guides them through some of the emotions.
“In Joplin,” she said, “half the town was gone. I worked with people trying to figure out what they were going to do.
“There were many survival stories there and every disaster has a survival story,” she said. Weaver related one story in Joplin from a man who said after the tornado he found himself outside his home wrapped in a carpet. Bewildered, he noted that the carpet probably saved his life.
“All of the stories are dramatic and traumatic,” said Weaver. “But what stood out to me there was the response from everyone who came out to [help]. I saw it in Sandy, too,” she added. “It’s the humane response [to disaster].”
Liz Barber, the interim CEO of Red Cross Long Island, said that volunteers such as Weaver are the backbone of the organization that responds to around 200 disasters a year, the majority of them house fires. In fact, 90 percent of its force is made up of volunteers.
“I’m so happy and proud to be able to work with her,” said Barber of Weaver. “Her strength is that she cares so deeply.”
Weaver says she is truly passionate about her work. “I refer to myself as a crisis junkie,” she facetiously remarked. “I just get gratification from being able to continue using the skills I had practiced in the past and to know that I’m helping someone.”
Anyone interested in volunteering for the American Red Cross should go to the website www.redcross.org.
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