The Mason Spirit

Point of View

Editor's Note: Alumna Angela Boykin, M.A. Psychology '92 and Ph.D. Psychology '96, answered the Red Cross's call for help on Sept. 11 and joined its Disaster Mental Health Services in New York City as a volunteer.

This is the abridged version. The full version will be available shortly.

I was assigned to Respite 3. The Respite Centers were at Ground Zero. They were put there to give the people working on the site a place to go to get food, take a break, and basically get a respite from the work. Right after Sept. 11, workers were working so hard and not wanting to leave the site to take any break or recuperate, so the Red Cross basically said, "Fine, we'll come to you then." They had never had Respite Centers at a disaster site before, so it was something new. The Respite Center provided food 24 hours a dayvery good food too. There were nurses who provided medical care and gave out things like aspirin, bandages, cold medicines, etc. There were areas where workers could really relax or nap like the Oasis, where there probably were about 100 recliners that had been donated, big screen TVs, video games, and computers with Internet access. Chaplains were also available to provide services.

An assignment there was really the most coveted assignment. Being assigned there meant being at Ground Zero, and having the closest access to the actual site that you could get as a Red Cross volunteer. My work involved contact with police, firefighters, construction workers, and others down at the site.

When we entered the building every day, we had to go through a "boot wash" where they washed off the bottoms of our shoes with a Clorox solution, to avoid bringing in any of the debris that was outside. Our Respite Center was about a block away from the Hot Zone.

The work was very different from what I'm used to. I'm used to people coming to me for services. But in New York, people often didn't know what I did or who they were talking to. I talked with a lot of people about how they were coping, how they felt on the 11th, how they felt now, who they'd lost, etc. I also heard a lot of gruesome stuff. There were many times, when talking to someone, that I could easily have cried, and I had to fight to hold back tears. The mental health person is supposed to be in control after all.