Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Eye of the Storm

I recently returned from an annual meeting in St. Louis, MO, with many of the NASW Chapter Executive Directors from around the country. We brainstorm ideas about how to bring excellent service to our respective Chapter members, how to influence public policy that impacts our members, the profession of social work and the clients and communities that we serve.

One of the moving reports came from my colleague, Walter Kalman, who is the Executive Director of the New Jersey Chapter. Walter shared with us how he and his staff responded to hundreds of calls for help, along with calls volunteering to help, from his members and others around the country. People were highly mobilized to come to New Jersey to ‘Do Something’ in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Beyond some of the heart wrenching stories he shared, he made an exquisite appeal to us, his colleagues, to ‘do the work of preparation’ and commit ourselves to be ready for any future disaster and train now, to mobilize our members to get this training, and to direct our members to the resources in our communities and in our nation that will need the talent, skills, and muscle power that professional social workers can provide.

Toward this end, the Massachusetts Chapter is adapting a wonderful manual that the New Jersey Chapter developed, to the social work community in Massachusetts. We expect the manual to be completed by the first of the year and to be a comprehensive resource to our members who want to participate in any disaster recovery efforts from hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, fires, dust storms, to human motivated disasters like the attacks on the twin towers.

Please watch the Chapter’s website and FOCUS for the release of this important document. If you want to get a head start on getting trained, contact your local Red Cross to find out when the next Disaster Mental Health Training program is scheduled.

The Red Cross is waiting for us.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and a Personal Note

I grew up in New Hampshire, in the foothills of the White Mountains, and have many fond and not so fond memories of living in a semi-rural area. One of the lingering recollections was walking to school in snow storms. And we had many. I recall feeling somewhat like a pioneer, a brave young kid, capable of dealing with any foul weather. I was tough. I don’t remember schools ever being called off-for any reason. In fact, the phrase ‘snow day’ was not in existence during those times. My mother just bundled up my sister and me, making sure we were adequately dressed for arctic conditions, handed us our lunch, and kissed us good-day. My father had already left an hour before to open the store, shovel the side walk so that customers could get in, and make sure the pipes hadn’t frozen. The notion of not going to school or not opening the store didn’t exist.

Enter Hurricane Sandy or any other likely weather disaster. As I listened to the warnings of staying home and hunkering down, I wondered, ‘What is the big deal? It’s just another storm- a little bigger than most and the eye isn’t even coming to Boston and the trains and buses are still running.’ (at 6:30 am). With the mindset of my New Hampshire upbringing, I got dressed and walked to the bus stop for my trip into the office. At the same time, my staff and colleagues were calling me to find out if the office was open, should they come in, what would happen if it got worse. There was apprehension and wondering.

Now, I am no longer the 8 year old, unthinking pip squeak who walked to school, regardless of the weather. I am, after all, an Executive Director, responsible for staff. People look to me for guidance, for direction, for answers. My standards and ideals lead me to straighten up, get going, look directorial, eliminate any whining about the weather. These are my standards and ideals-the shoulds. However, the ‘shoulds’- my standards and ideals- can get in the way, especially, of respect for other peoples’ fears and concerns, particularly about safety. My staff and friends were absolutely correct in wondering about my position. I was not taking into consideration their considerations. So, again, I find myself reconsidering long held beliefs and practices. Re-examining positions I have held. Wondering about what is right, what is ideal, what is truth and what is possible. The Sandy Storm gave me another reminder about being open, about questioning what is the truth. The personal journey continues. Right now, my next step is to meet with staff about reviewing the ‘storm day’ policy. It used to be, “If Filene’s Basement is open then NASW is open.” Time for a new ‘look-see.’