Bloomington Alternative correspondent Melissa McReynolds has spent three weeks volunteering with the Red Cross in New Orleans.
NEW ORLEANS — Kenny Wang said good-bye to his college buds in southern California. Arnel Robertson closed her day care in Anchorage. Dave Hawkins managed the largest night club in Nebraska for 10 years. Terry Cooney left his family's 135-year-old New Jersey real estate and insurance business.
All set aside their former lives, finding news ones as full-time American Red Cross volunteers, responding to the worst disaster in American history. None had disaster response experience prior to Katrina. Yet each answered the call and has remained in the trenches since month No. 1.
The Shalom Community Center benefits Bloomington in innumerable ways. One — when an individual is walking downtown Monday through Friday and is approached by a stranger in need, he can say "No, I don't give away money, but I can walk you over to the Shalom Center, when you can have hot food, a place inside away from the weather, and a myriad of resources. ..."
But what about on weekends? When Doug and Kathy Curry and their son Riley were approached downtown for money for food after attending church, they had the option of ignoring the request and walking on, or simply saying no.
Instead, they went to their fellow church members to address the challenge, and Bloomington's newest meal program was created. "Shalom Sunday" - so named to tie in to the work of the Shalom Community Center — is a free Sunday breakfast at First Christian Church, 205 E. Kirkwood.
Aaron Haack demonstrates a jump shot to one of his buddies on the court, a friend who is half his height and one third his age.
"Your left is your guide hand," he says. "It's your right that gives your shot power. ... Nice! Good work!"
Haack, who has been part of the Boys & Girls Club scene for five years, knows the program well.
"I worked all four years throughout college — and three summers also — as a gym supervisor, with this being my first year as recreation director," he says.
He says working for the now-century-old organization seems almost as if it were inevitable.
It has been a wild semester for IU professors Bob Althauser and Lee Ehman. Arriving on campus early, staying late, and taking work home every evening and weekend is standard fare for university instructors. But these two retired years ago.
Althauser and Ehman are American Red Cross volunteers. And ever since Katrina hit mainland, life has been non-stop for both. Each has put in more than 200 hours of volunteer work since Sept. 1, right here in Monroe County. And with Hurricane Rita evacuees arriving this month, the climb is still uphill.
Althauser took his first Red Cross disaster relief class in 2001, Ehman in 2002. Althauser is a retired sociology professor; Ehman is a retired School of Education professor who served as associate dean. The focus for both in the hurricane relief effort has been casework — sitting with the families and learning — then fulfilling — their immediate needs.
Resolving conflict and reducing stress. Creating peace and harmony, within oneself and with all sentient beings. We want it, but how to get there?
"The cause of violence is separation," Ingrid Skoog metaphorically shouts from the rooftops of Bloomington. "Separation from our hearts' compassion for ourselves and others. Nonviolent Communication (NVC) seeks to reconnect us with our innate humanity, our desire to contribute to one another. Connection is the essence of this practice."
"Nonviolent Communication is both a set of communication tools and a spiritual practice," Skoog said during a recent workshop at her east-side studio, Moving Compassion. "By examining the needs behind what we do and say, NVC helps reduce hostility, heal pain, and strengthen relationships, both professional and personal. The key is that human needs are universal."