Get ready now to help!
World Cares Center has once again partnered with VOAD partners in doing incredible work helping communities recover during times of disasters.
During last year’s Hurricane Irene Disaster relief efforts World Cares Center both referred local volunteers wanting to help with an experienced relief organization and referred homeowners in need of cleanup assistance to VOAD partners in response to the damages sustained by water and wind damages. Their efforts and hard work continue as they are getting ready to responde to Hurricane Sandy.
Become a Disaster Volunteer and help your fellow neighbor in their time of need, by completing a disaster volunteer briefing and filling out a disaster volunteer application.
Once we receive your application you will be contacted and provided with the information to attend training orientation before being assigned a site. For more information call
World Cares Center’s Programs Manager
Preparing to Be a Powerful Disaster Volunteer
So, you’d like to volunteer. You’ve seen the news accounts of floods, famine, and disaster victims, and you want to help. World Cares Center was founded by volunteers, so we understand your desire to make a difference, give back to your community, achieve a sense of accomplishment, acquire a sense of belonging, and all of the great reasons we decide to serve others.
In order to be the absolute best volunteer you can be, we’re sharing some tips so that you can not only give your all to the organization for which you plan to volunteer, but by following these few simple steps as an emergency and disaster volunteer, you can remain at your best, whether volunteering or in your personal life.
We all have skills and talents that can be great additions to the organization where we volunteer. You may be an awesome typist, deft organizer, a people person or able to muck out a house in an hour flat. However, there is a great difference between skills and attributes. Let’s take a closer look:
First, we need to understand the Three Core Attributes of disaster volunteers:
- Stay grounded
- Be an effective listener
- Show empathy for the victim
The ability to stay calm decreases stress levels and anxiety, and it enforces one’s ability to remain focused on the task at hand. Some traits of staying grounded:
- Doesn’t get flustered easily – You may see and hear things that may make you very upset
- Stays Focused – We have a task to accomplish, stay focused on that task
- Stays calm
- The ability to hear and understand what someone is saying
- The stronger one’s ability to listen, the stronger the chances are to complete tasks safely, efficiently, and within your guidelines.
An effective listener will be able to:
- Repeat what someone has said and paraphrase it to confirm meaning
- Refrain from interrupting someone when they are speaking
- Keeps body posture attentive and avoids fidgeting
- The ability to identify with and understand another’s situation, feelings, and motives.
- To attribute your own feelings to and object to a situation
Traits of showing empathy include:
- Maintaining eye contact
- Focuses on the individual and what his/her needs are
- Does not try to “one up” shared stories with their own stories
Additional core attributes include:
- Awareness of self and others
- Cultural understanding of the community they are serving
- The ability to take care of themselves emotionally (self care)
In order to be an effective volunteer, it is important to follow these guidelines. Your organization values you as an individual as well as the work and commitment you bring. Following these guidelines will keep you at your best.
- The ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects, or patterns without necessarily having to understand what or why things are happening.
- Example: To be aware that someone is showing signs of stress or agitation although you may not know why they are stressed or agitated.
- Cultural Understanding
- Understanding and accepting the nuances of specific dialects, and what different words may imply
- Knowing or being aware of different customs
- Understanding and respecting cultural differences
Self-assessment and insight
- In light of the potential negative side effects of disaster or emergency volunteering, it is important that you assess your readiness to volunteer.
- Self – assessment of your personal wellbeing reduces the risk of injuring yourself, becoming a burden on others, and consuming excess resources.
- Physical care
- Emotional care
- Practicing Self Care, the ability to take care of YOU
By not practicing self-care, you run the risk of:
- Secondary or Vicarious Trauma – this is a condition caused by direct exposure to trauma through a firsthand account, narrative or a traumatic event, like repeatedly listening to stories of survivors.
- Compassion fatigue is a loss of sympathy or empathy for clients, usually because of the demands placed on volunteers in stressful situations
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - this is a psychological condition brought on by a traumatic event and lasting longer than 30 days. PTSD is characterized by re-experiencing the event, anger and the inability to concentrate or sleep. Symptoms usually develop shortly after an event, but may take years and can be triggered by an experience related to the event.
Risk factors for trauma include:
- Previous history of trauma (primary or secondary)
- Age – varies by individual
- Length of time/Experience in the field
- High caseload/contact with survivors/family members/ responders increases risk
- Current life situation (kids, marriage, etc.)
- Excessive shifts (e.g. > 12 hours)
- Days without rest/ Sleep deprivation
- Number of interactions
- Feeling a lack of success
As a disaster volunteer, you must remember that while helping others, you may be putting yourself in the midst of the very disaster you are trying to mitigate. Potential for stress may come from the following:
- Injured people
- Deceased people
- Severely distressed people
- Sustained & sudden loud noises
- Potential risks to your personal safety
- Extreme Weather/Heat/Cold
- Repeatedly hearing similar and emotionally charged stories
- Risk of personal injury or death (does not apply to volunteering at satellite locations)
- Noxious smells
- Air pollutants
- Heavy equipment
- Military personnel & check points
- Previous traumatic events
- Or reasons specific to your disaster
Some signs that you are pushing yourself too hard include:
- Upset stomach
- Abusing alcohol or drugs
- Feeling agitated or hyper
- Can’t keep an experience off your mind
- You have difficulty sleeping
- You find yourself crying frequently
- You have shortness of breath or chest tightening
- You are withdrawing or find yourself no longer enjoying activities you once enjoyed
- Loss of faith
- You are experiencing headaches
- You experience loss of energy
- You have difficulty making decisions
- You notice a change in your appetite
If you experience exhaustion, an inability to focus, find yourself making simple mistakes, are short tempered, notice a decrease in work quality, notice a lack of coordination, or slurred speech, have a change in your general attitude or health, or notice forgetfulness, you may not be practicing effective self-care.
Some ways to practice self-care include:
- Seeking support
- Find your local volunteer support center and register for support groups or programs
- Remember that the people around you (family, friends, spiritual advisors or co-workers) are a wonderful source of support. Give them permission to tell you when they notice signs of stress in your behavior.
- Having a “buddy”
- Find a buddy who is also a volunteer or responder. Meet on a regular basis to discuss your experiences, what you achieved, and what is bothering you.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself physically – Move, Eat, Drink, and Sleep
- Engage in moderate physical activity and movement daily
- Limit your intake of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, salt, alcohol, and added sugars
- Consume 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables daily
- At least half of your grains should be whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat products, oatmeal, popcorn)
- Stay hydrated with water and fluids with electrolytes, like Gatorade
- Get 7-8 hours minimum of sleep per night (more if you wake up tired)
Practice Relaxation Techniques
- Sit or lie in a comfortable position
- Close your eyes and breathe deeply (3 seconds in, 3 seconds out)
- Focus all your attention on your breathing; notice the movement of your chest and abdomen in and out.
- When you feel your attention wandering, briefly focus your attention on wherever it goes. Then, gently return your attention to your breathing.
- Continue for 5-10 minutes.
Journaling can be a great way to de-stress
- Keep a notebook which details your experiences with a beginning and an end
- Spend 15-20 minutes writing in your journal at the end of each day or when you take a break
- Review what you have written
- Pay attention to
- How much you’ve done and experienced
- Signs of stress
Everyone is different. Practice a relaxation technique that works for you
- Get a Massage
- Practice Yoga
Remember, experiencing stress is normal given the circumstances. However, if any sign of stress lasts more than a few days, please seek professional support.
Effectively putting these tips into practice will make you a better volunteer better able to serve your community. Remember, above all, as a disaster volunteer, you must always:
- Respect the privacy of those we serve
- Tread with care in matters of life and death
- Be responsible with the duties entrusted to you
- Be humble and remain aware of my own frailty
- Refrain from overextending yourself