RSVP Volunteer Joins Hurricane Relief Efforts

88 year old Marion Contrera (left), with Grace Mancuso. Both are volunteers with CSS/RSVP.

This year’s hurricane season has brought widespread destruction that impacted countless families and communities. As Hurricane Irma grew into a major threat, CSS/RSVP volunteer Grace Mancuso cancelled her vacation to join the Greater New York Red Cross—one of hundreds of RSVP partners across the city—in Florida-based relief efforts.

Carol was prepared. The retired Staten Island school teacher had witnessed Hurricane Sandy’s toll first hand, and focused her RSVP volunteer training on disaster response.  “I want to be in the trenches, really helping people,” she says.

Grace's training includes food safety, CPR for adults and children, and the ability to operate an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV). “An ERV goes to any fire in any of the NYC boroughs, carrying water and snacks for first responders, and for anyone displaced by fire.”

Once in Tampa, Grace helped register people at an evacuation center set up in a middle school. “We had 1,100 people,” she says. Storm damage in Florida included flooding, high winds and downed tree branches. “We helped a 91 year old woman with a walker into the evacuation center. Her name was Lydia; she had been a Peace Corps nurse and was helping other elderly people as the storm got close.”

Later, Grace was sent to a community center in Citrus Springs. “Many people with special needs; they arrived with nurses, and with oxygen tanks and other necessary equipment.”

The stress on these vulnerable men and women was evident: “At night people would pop up from sleep not knowing where they were. They had been shifted from place to place, with no idea how their homes were, or their families. It was hitting them hard.”

In our training they tell us not to say, ‘I understand what you’re going through.’ Because you don’t understand. You are not in their situation. We’re trained to listen, to be sympathetic.”  

Of her deployment, Grace says: “It was so rewarding.  Many people in Florida were up in New York after 9/11 helping us at that time. I met some of those people.”

“I would go back to deploy again,” says Grace. “It was just a positive experience. Through the hurricane I worked with great people. Loved the people! I really lucked out.”

She has this advice for those thinking of volunteering: “You have to find your niche. I wanted to volunteer with RSVP, but didn’t want it set in stone that I would be doing the same thing every Tuesday or Thursday. I was interested in a lot of different things.”

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