A version of this post originally appeared on the Eastern North Carolina Region blog.
Annamarie Gallagher has always wanted to serve with the American Red Cross, and when a disaster hit her home state of North Carolina, she decided to make it happen. Since early November, Annamarie has been in a shelter in Goldsboro to provide disaster mental health support.
“I feel like I’m really starting to get to know people, which is the good and the hard part because you have to know their stories so you know what kind of resources they need, but then you really get invested,” said Annamarie. “You really want things to turnaround for them.”
Many of the residents have been in shelters following Hurricane Matthew for nearly a month. Annamarie focuses on providing a safe space for people to let out their frustrations before sitting down to discuss what’s next.
Comfort and Routine for Kids in the Shelter
Annamarie, mother to a 1 and 3-year-old, is especially moved by the children in the shelter. She reflects on the 18-month-old who runs around the shelter like it is her house because she doesn’t know any different, and the 6-year-old who tells her about the snake that came into her living room because of the flood water.
While in the shelter, the county has made sure the children are still able to attend school and have a normal routine to ground them. Annamarie, and the rest of the Red Cross shelter staff, try to have activities, such as coloring and sidewalk chalk, every evening when they return to provide a personal space that is usually hard to come by both at school and in a shelter.
“The only thing a child really wants is to see somebody’s eye light up when they’re in the room,” said Annamarie on how she connects with the kids. “I want to know about them, and having an adult who’s interested in those parts of their world is just amazing for them.”
Annamarie truly finds her inspiration in these children. “We as adults can learn a lot from them, we really can,” said Annamarie. “About resilience, about joy, about having a good attitude in really not so great circumstances.”
Sage Advice for Volunteers and Those Who Love to Serve
Annamarie is also there for the Red Cross volunteers, who have been working tirelessly since the hurricane hit. She gives them the same advice she gives the residents: try to find a space for yourself, even if it’s just for a moment or two. She encourages volunteers to not get discouraged by what is directly in front of them, but to see the larger picture and know they are making a difference.
“I just hope anybody who loves to serve, and anybody who loves to take care of people can go out with the Red Cross sometime,” said Annamarie, “because it’s an amazing experience.”