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Lakefield pair return from helping with Hurricane Sandy recovery

December 20, 2012

   Barb Bakalyar and Sarah Pohlman, both of Lakefield, have returned from volunteering with the American Red Cross in New York City. The two aided with recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy. 
 Photo Courtesy of Daily Globe
Photo Courtesy of Daily Globe
Barb Bakalyar and Sarah Pohlman, both of Lakefield, have returned from volunteering with the American Red Cross in New York City. The two aided with recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy.
by Carol Schreiber, Staff writer
Christmas is a time for families, and the season of caring and giving.

One Lakefield family went above and beyond, giving their time and caring talents to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. Barb Bakalyar and her daughter, Sarah Pohlman, have recently returned from spending two weeks in New York City. Barb and Sarah volunteered their time to the American Red Cross to help aid in the recovery efforts.

They flew to New York on November 24, and stayed until December 8. While there, they worked at the Nassua Community College in Garden City, New York.

This shelter originally housed well over 1000 people, but by the time Barb and Sarah arrived, five weeks after Hurricane Sandy, the number had been reduced to 280. By the time they left, the number had been cut in half. “Many moved to other locations, not always their own homes,” Barb explained. “To other facilities they could live in, until their places were fixed and they could go back home.”

Barb had taken some classes about two years ago, thinking about the opportunity to volunteer, “never knowing that I’d go to New York.” As a registered nurse, she took health services classes to expand her knowledge and help her prepare for a possible deployment.

“I was contacted right after Hurricane Sandy, and I had to finish up some things for the Red Cross so I could go,” Barb explained. She finished the classes, and was available for the next deployment when the first wave of volunteers returned home. There is a constant shift in volunteers, with many spending a couple weeks and then returning to their homes.

She asked her daughter, Sarah, if she would consider going. “I think I caught her on a good day, because she said yes,” Barb laughed.

“I signed up on Thanksgiving Day, and we left on Saturday,” Sarah said.

Barb and Sarah took time off from their jobs to go on this deployment. Barb is a registered nurse at Avera Clinic in Worthington, and Sarah is a social worker at Colonial Manor in Lakefield. “They were very gracious,” Barb said, and “very supportive,” Sarah added. Both employers were willing to allow their employees time off to aid those less fortunate.

Barb worked in the nurses area at the shelter, offering first aid if needed, but mainly with assisting people in getting to doctors appointments or refilling prescriptions. An isolation area was set aside for those who had contracted the stomach flu. There was another area set aside for those who needed additional care, those in wheelchairs or with walkers.

“It was organized chaos by the time we got there,” Barb explained. “Networking” was the number one thing done for the clients. Barb did a lot of assisting with doctor appointments, prescriptions, obtaining vouchers for glasses and various other health needs. In addition, there was time to talk.

“Visit with people, listen to people, share their stories and hardships,” Barb added. Those affected by Hurricane Sandy needed to be able to talk about things, and listening was part of the health care.

Sarah worked in the client casework department. “Similar to social work, we helped them in getting the resources they needed,” Sarah said.

Assisting the supervisor, Sarah aided in compiled information gathered by other client caseworkers. She had hoped to work in the mental health department, but found out when they arrived in New York that a Masters Degree was required in that state. Sarah has a Bachelors Degree.

She spent the first day in Manhattan, answering phones and directing clients to resources. Sarah then went to Nassua (Long Island area), joining her mother, Barb, in working at the shelter there.

The American Red Cross worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Social Services (DSS). “We had a common goal,” Sarah explained, “of helping people get back on their feet.”

Getting the people back on their feet, and out of the shelters, meant assisting in lining up repairs or other needs. “There were so many other organizations there, all working to get people back to their normal life,” Sarah added. Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army were also working in the New York City area.

With the many organizations working together, volunteers came from throughout the United States, Canada and the Virgin Islands. “There was a 70 year old couple working there,” Sarah said of some client caseworkers. Many stay for a short time, but some stay for the duration of the disaster.

Volunteers are always needed, as Jennifer Hyk, Executive Director of the Southwest Minnesota Chapter of the American Red Cross pointed out.

“Generally, there is kind of a range of "disaster" volunteers. There are those that are prepared to simply "shelter" and feed people who are displaced due to disaster, there are those who are prepared to in general assist in a variety of ways (provide client financial assistance, food, resources, etc.) if there is a disaster-local, national or international, and then there is our DAT team of volunteers who are called directly by the Sheriff, etc. when there is a fire, small scale single family or apartment type fire/disaster who go out right away and help with shelter/hotel room, clothes, food, etc,” Hyk explained. “Within all areas we have people who are professional health, or mental health type volunteers-such as Barb being a nurse and her daughter being a social worker.”

The American Red Cross provides training for the volunteers, and the level of training depends on what type of volunteering and how in depth the volunteers want to get. “In general though, we train the volunteers and try to meet regularly to keep up on information, education, and changes,” Hyk added. Volunteers go through an application process that includes a background check.

Anyone interested in becoming a Red Corss volunteer can contact Hyk at the southwest Minnesota chapter office, 507-372-4702.

“I want to be more involved in the local chapter,” Barb added of the Southwest Minnesota Chapter of the American Red Cross. Currently, she is on the Board of Directors of the chapter, and wants to do more within the county. As of yet, the opportunities have not arrived.

“I definitely will do more when I retire, but that’s a few years away yet,” Barb said with a smile.

Sarah, however, is thinking about starting a family, so she may not be as free to be deployed as she was for this instance. She found the experience very rewarding, and pointed out the variety of positions that help those affected by disaster. “It was definitely worth it,” she added of the experience.

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