Up to their shins in stinking cellar muck, a trio of speech language pathologists from Calgary couldn’t help but talk “filthy dirty” as they rolled up their sleeves and slid on boots to help seniors at an adult-living townhouse complex clean up after catastrophic flooding.
“Some people got tears in their eyes; they were so happy to see us,” says Shara Line who, with her South Calgary Health Centre speech colleagues Tanya Hibbs and Barb Hardcastle, numbered among the hundreds of Alberta Health Services (AHS) staff who volunteered their time and energy to go to High River and help its residents move forward with their lives.
“We were happy we were assigned there,” adds Line.
“The seniors there really had nobody to help them clean up. We did the basements of five units. We got all covered in muck. Working in window light, with no electricity, it was quite dark. When you’re going down the stairs, you hit the fourth or fifth step — and then you take a little slip, because that’s where the mud started. No one had been down in these places yet. We were the first.”
Hundreds of gritty assignments were taken on in the Town of High River where AHS also contributed by getting the word out to AHS personnel from the region who arrived to staff the High River Re-entry Centre on the town’s Rodeo Grounds.
Emotions, tempers and heartbreak came with the job as volunteers broke the news on the status of flooded homes to returning residents.
“For seven days, we ran three shifts to keep the centre open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with anywhere between 20 and 35 volunteers per shift, depending on the day and which neighbourhoods were allowed to return home,” says Carmelle Steel, an AHS co-ordinator of Volunteer Resources, who was there to support her High River counterparts Grace LeDoux and program assistant Robin Carnegie.
By phone, email, Facebook social media and every avenue available, Steel and LeDoux put a call out to all AHS staff in High River, Black Diamond, Okotoks, Claresholm, Vulcan and Nanton.
“We also tapped into Rockyview Hospital and South Health Campus in Calgary,” says Steel. “We had amazing response from our volunteers, their families and community supporters. Our volunteers certainly played a key role in getting residents home. They put together packages of information on how to clean up after a flood; when to turn your power back on; tips for keeping safe as they cleaned up, and more.
“We had people at the door assisting with crowd control because, at times, we had two-hour lineups. We had a long desk with 21 volunteers stationed to give residents the status of their home. Due to the safety issues in the town, we gave out passes for residents to go into their homes, to get in and out of town, because the hardest-hit parts of their community were still not open to the public.”
AHS staff also gave residents information cards that could be hung in their windows: Power Needed; Water Needed; Sewer Needed; Need Fridge Removed; We Need Volunteers.
“They literally built on the fly a volunteer force that was responsive to what the town needed,” says Michele Rondot, Manager of Volunteer Resources for AHS Calgary Zone, which encompasses High River.
“I have never been so proud of my entire team — how they stepped forward and how they gave so much of themselves to the community of High River,” adds Rondot. “They were awesome, incredible and compassionate. It’s times like these, when our volunteers step up, that reminds me how much I love my job and what I do.”
Line, who first witnessed severe flooding as a student in Grand Forks, N.D., says: “It was sad to see the families going through their things to see what could be saved, but they were just so happy and so appreciative that we were there.
“But we did manage to rescue an unusual, sentimental treasure that brought a big smile back for one elderly gentleman — his trophy antelope head, with record-size antlers — from a hunting trip he made to Saskatchewan back in 1977.
“As we left, he asked: ‘Can I give you a hug?’ ”
This article was provided by Alberta Health Services and was originally posted on their website.