By Ashley Peterson-DeLuca
On the evening of August 26, 2023, a blaze broke out at an apartment complex in West Omaha, Nebraska. A small porch fire had spread to all 20 units, destroying homes and property, but no one lost their lives. All the residents but one were able to find temporary housing that night.
Christina Davis, American Red Cross Nebraska-Iowa Region volunteer case worker, was called in to help 10 families affected by the fire — plus the one man who struggled to find housing. For privacy’s sake, she referred to him as F. She worked with him for months to help secure short-term and then permanent housing.
“It kept me up at night. It was 107, 108 degrees that August and F. was living out of his truck in the burned-down building’s garage. But he couldn’t leave his dog,” explains Davis.
Red Cross case workers connect people affected by disasters with local organizations that provide services to help, such as medical care, spiritual care, food pantries and a safe place to sleep at night. But she struggled to find temporary housing for F. that accepted dogs. Many shelters cannot accommodate pets, leaving owners in a bind.
“We did find that the local humane society offered free food that F. could pick up for his dog,” says Davis.
Because Davis is also a social worker in the private sector, she already had many of the skills needed to set people affected by disasters on the road to recovery. But, like all volunteers, she received additional training from the Red Cross for how to be a great case worker when she first started — and can always rely on her very supportive Red Cross team.
“After a disaster happens, you just don’t know the next step. You’ve never had to do this before. We try to guide people, so they don’t feel so overwhelmed,” says Davis. “And sometimes, we’re just here to listen. After talking about what they’re going through, I’ve had a lot people say ‘Thank you. Now I can go about my day.’”
Despite F. continuing to live out of his truck into the fall, he tried to tell Christina that he was fine. But she had the skills and determination to listen and learn what he really needed.
“He told us that he didn’t have the cash on hand to afford a new apartment in a neighborhood that worked for him,” explains Davis. “So, we researched and connected him to services set up to support that. Because he was a veteran, we knew he could receive services from the local VA Community Resource and Referral Center. We also referred him to the North Omaha Community Partnership, which helps with deposits and first month’s rent. The City of Omaha also pitched in.”
Despite helping F. with his immediate needs, Davis continued to be bothered by the lack of services for pet owners like F. With support from her Red Cross team, she is working to change that. She’s become a Red Cross Community Engagement Partnership Coordinator and is connecting with other local agencies to close this gap.
“My Red Cross team is the best. They’ve encouraged me to get outside of my comfort zone and try new roles like Disaster Action Team (DAT) or Spiritual Comfort,” says Davis. They’ve also supported me in helping solve big, long-term challenges that affect clients.”
Davis has walked in the shoes of her clients. Thirty years ago, her Iowa home burned down in an electrical fire and she received Red Cross support to until her insurance company stepped up.
She was first drawn to volunteer for the Red Cross after a big flood in her town in 2019 and the Red Cross were the first to respond. Then, when a social work client also told her she had great experiences volunteering with the Red Cross, Davis took it as a sign to act. She signed up with the Red Cross two years ago to be a volunteer and case worker.
“I think it is a good position for anyone who likes working with people,” says Davis. “You don’t need a degree in social work. You get a lot of training and support from the Red Cross.”
To get involved and learn about volunteer opportunities, including how to be a case worker like Davis, visit redcross.org/volunteer.