When Dee Cullen of Bay Lake watched in horror as the second commercial airliner deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, she knew it was only a matter of time before she would be sent to help displaced and grieving families in New York City.
That time has arrived.
Cullen, a Red Cross Northern Lakes Area Chapter disaster relief worker, is also a member of the Red Cross State Rapid Response Team. She has been called to help families during five natural disasters so far this year in Minnesota and now she is heading for New York City on Thursday.
Cullen assisted families in Montevideo when the Mississippi River was flooding there, and also volunteered during ice storms in Duluth in April. She helped tornado victims in Brainerd and Siren, Wis., this summer.
Now the retired Bay Lake area woman is undergoing additional Red Cross training this week in the Twin Cities in order to serve a three-week stint in New York City starting Thursday. She's trained in family services, so Cullen expects that she will be interviewing families displaced or suffering the loss of loved ones as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, helping them connect with the services and support they need.
Brainerd psychologist Carol Schwarzkopf left Saturday for a two-week tour of duty in the Stanford, Conn., area, where she will be counseling grieving families in the bedroom communities surrounding New York City. She has worked with the Red Cross for 10 years and serves on both the State Rapid Response Team and on Disaster Services Human Resources, the Red Cross national and international disaster team.
Schwarzkopf has been a psychologist in Brainerd for 24 years and has worked during several natural disasters, including two hurricanes, several tornadoes and the Grand Forks floods. She said on Friday that she'll be put to work counseling families, helping them deal with their anger, grief and conflicts, as well as helping them fill out paperwork for death certificates.
Cullen has lived in Bay Lake since she and her husband Mark moved up here full-time from Afton, where they owned a bed and breakfast and a cleaning service. Both she and her husband have been Red Cross volunteers for six years.
"I decided that when I retired I wanted to work with the Red Cross," said Dee Cullen. "It keeps us busy but everyone has their own calling in life. It's a nice feeling to know you have skills to help people."
Renee Steffen, a six-year board member of the Northern Lakes Area Chapter of the American Red Cross in Brainerd, stepped down from the board of directors last month after serving three years as chair of the local chapter. Brainerd Attorney Ray Charpentier was elected to fill her vacated post.
Rather than leaving the chapter, Steffen plans to head up the Red Cross disaster relief team in Crow Wing and Cass counties and is attempting to find more people in the Brainerd lakes area who are willing to volunteer.
"We have volunteers, but not enough," explained Steffen. "We found that out during the (June 13 Brainerd) tornado."
The Brainerd Red Cross chapter has approximately 15 Disaster Action Team members in Crow Wing and Cass counties. Of those, eight volunteers have gone on to receive additional training to provide disaster relief at the state, national and international levels, said Peg Senarighi, executive director of the Northern Lakes Area Chapter of the Red Cross.
Red Cross disaster relief training courses, such as Intro to Disaster, Single Family Emergency and Mass Care, will be held at the end of October in Brainerd to train new disaster relief workers. The training includes basic first aid, learning how to fill out paperwork and how to help people access emergency needs.
After graduating from these courses, which are free, then a Red Cross disaster relief worker could go on to receive additional training to be able to help the Red Cross during state, national and international disasters.
Anyone interested in becoming a Red Cross disaster relief worker can contact the area chapter at 829-4004 or 1-866-299-4004.
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