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Development Coordinator Janell Jordan Helps California Wildfire Victims

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Janell Jordan, a Development Coordinator for Cardinal Innovations Healthcare's Network Management team, spent Christmas tending to the mental health needs of California wildfire victims who had lost their homes and were forced to stay in a shelter.

In 2017, nearly 9,000 wildfires burned 1.2 million acres of land in California, destroying 10,800 structures and killing at least 46 people, according to news reports.

Jordan was called to help with the mental health needs of victims of the Thomas Fire, which was first reported on December 4 and was the largest fire ever recorded in California. The Thomas Fire killed one fire firefighter, destroyed 1,063 structures, including many homes, and scorched more than 280,000 acres across Southern California.

“Seeing the disaster up close was humbling," said Jordan, who worked at a shelter about 20 miles from the fires. “We wore masks due to the poor air quality. There was a constant stench of smoke smell in the air and we could see the smoke from the fires on the hills."

Jordan said she decided to sign up as a Disaster Mental Health Volunteer (DMHV) with the American Red Cross and was expecting to travel to the Caribbean to work with Hurricane Maria victims when she got the call asking if she could go to California the next day. She flew there as soon as she could, arriving in Burbank, Calif., on December 16.

As she drove along U.S. 101 from Burbank to Ventura, Calif., to meet with American Red Cross officials, Jordan saw the singed earth along the side of the road.

After meeting with Red Cross officials, Jordan headed to a shelter on the University of California at Santa Barbara campus, which housed 250 people. Many were there because of mandatory evacuations and because they had lost everything.

“I worked eight to 12 hours per day at the shelter counseling the victims of the wildfires, shelter volunteers and Red Cross staff," Jordan said. She also worked with individuals with Severe and Persistent Mental Illness (SMI) who were at the shelter and needed assistance.

“The families that I assisted were from all walks of life – from homeless to upper middle class, living on the street to living in Montecito (the hills)," said Jordan, who was one of two Red Cross counselors at the shelter where she volunteered.

“I spent one day working with the Latino population affected by the fires. This was on the Saturday before Christmas," she said, adding that 11 of those families who had lived in mobile homes on the hills and worked on local farms had lost their homes in the fires.

“Their trailers burned completely down. Pets were lost also," Jordan said. Jordan and others visited the children and their families with Santa Claus to deliver donated gifts, food and clothing. The Red Cross provided case management to assess available financial support.

Janell Jordan and Santa Claus passing out donations

Jordan said overall working as a disaster relief volunteer was rewarding, but it also was surprising and inspiring.

“The most surprising aspect was the resilience of the residents of the shelter. In the shelter, there were many people from different walks of life such as socioeconomic background, race, religion, etc. The residents formed small groups like families and would get together for breakfast, lunch, dinner, to watch television together and take walks on UCSB campus," she said. “They shared their life stories, their religious beliefs and their political beliefs.

“When residents began to leave as evacuations were lifted, we began to see the frustration expressed, not only because those left behind were not able to go home but also because they were being separated from those that they created bonds with," Jordan said. “Some of these individuals made commitments to keep in contact while others were among the homeless population and did not have a means to stay in contact."

Jordan said that Disaster Mental Health uses Psychological First Aid, which is built on the concept of resilience and aims to reduce stress and assist with healthy recovery from a traumatic event.

“Most of the residents were thankful to have someone to listen to their trauma story as they debrief from events that took place during the disaster. Feeling a sense of being supported and expressions of gratitude was the theme with the residence at the shelter," Jordan said.

Network Manager Tema Smith said, “I admire (Jordan's) work with our organization, but also admire that she spent her vacation away from her family to care for others when most of us were with our loved ones."

Jordan, who has worked for Cardinal Innovations for about 15 months, said she decided to pursue a career that involved helping others at a young age.

“My grandmother and mother set the standard in my family to always help others that are in need," Jordan said. “My grandmother worked in the community caring for the elderly. I remember riding in the car with her as she would go from home to home delivering meals and caring for the sick by providing medication and other items without compensation. My mother took on this same role and set the example for me."

Now Jordan is doing the same through her work at Cardinal Innovations and her volunteer service. “I really enjoy extending my support to others that are in need," she said.

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