A central Iowa high school teacher is home now after spending two weeks in Washington D.C. helping answer the crisis hotline for the American Red Cross. Sheri Florez, of Norwalk, says the task was both challenging and rewarding, as she spent much of her day, every day, talking with distraught people in the heart of the hurricane-torn Gulf Coast. Florez says most people just needed someone to help them make a plan as they’d lost everything and didn’t know where to begin or where to turn. She says “At first I thought anybody could do this…but as it turned out, a lot of people left” as they couldn’t handle that type of emotionally-draining call day in and day out. Some calls were from frantic people who’d been separated from loved ones in the evacuations, a few of whom she was able to reunite over conference calls. Florez says one of the hundreds of calls she took was from an elderly New Orleans woman who had just returned with her disabled husband to their flood-damaged home — in hysterics.The woman had found two dead bodies in the living room that had evidently floated in during the storm and were just left there when the water receded. Florez says she helped calm the woman down, learned where she was located and dispatched a rescue team, in addition to hooking the woman up with a mental health specialist. Florez took two weeks of unpaid leave from her teaching job at Indianola’s Alternative High School to volunteer for the Red Cross. She was dumbfounded to learn many of her longtime friends from her own high school days were helping pay for the trip, and for the substitute teacher who filled in during her absence. Florez says “All my classmates took a day and paid for one of the days that I was gone and came on board. That’s really outstanding for a class that graduated in 1970 to come back. I got so many nice letters with checks” and some of her students’ and their parents helped out too. She says they all realize “one person can make a difference,” adding, the experience left her “honored and humbled” and very thankful for the good life she has in Iowa.
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