Shelter From the Storm
Carlyn Ellison, a master’s in public health student in the College of Public Health and Health Professions, had just signed up as an American Red Cross volunteer in anticipation of conducting her internship with the group in the spring, when news hit that Hurricane Irma was making a beeline for Florida.
After some hurried emergency training, Ellison got her first volunteer assignment the night before the storm hit northern Florida: staffing a shelter in Gilchrist County, Alachua County’s neighbor to the west. Ellison set up the shelter’s registration station and registered more than 250 evacuees during a 12-hour shift.
“I talked to multiple families and let them express their situations to me. I learned that it is sometimes best not to offer your own advice, but simply be someone that they can tell their worries to,” she said. “I was happy that I could just be there for people who felt like they had zero control over their lives.”
One of Ellison’s challenges was finding a way to communicate to the eight Spanish-speaking families housed at the shelter. After asking around, she found some bilingual teens to help with translation so that all announcements were made in both English and Spanish.
“In those instances, we, as public health professionals, have to be ready to make the best out of the situation,” said Ellison, who plans to pursue a career in emergency management. “It is important not to get frustrated and take a moment to think critically and creatively. In the future, I will make plans, but also remember that no plan is perfect.”