A Helping Hand on Your Worst Day
ACT volunteers are there for you
by Coleen Stivers
One evening a month, people gather at the YRMC West campus in what may well be the toughest volunteer assignment in Yavapai County.
There are not a lot of bleached blondes in the room, but there’s plenty of steel wool. This is the Arizona Crisis Team, and they are the ones police and firemen call when the going gets tough. These are the people who negotiate the chasm between murder and suicide, arson and accidental fire, catastrophe and natural death.
When a tragedy occurs, police and fire personnel have complicated and important jobs to do. When they see the need, they call the Arizona Crisis Team. ACT volunteers are immediately available on scene following a traumatic event, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They arrive within 30 minutes of a call. The ACT volunteers provide care and compassion to victims and families within the first few hours. They are there to provide emotional first aid as well as practical assistance, making referrals to many critical resources.
For example, ACT volunteers console parents after the death of a child, hold the hand of a suicide survivor, and comfort emotionally shaken victims of auto accidents, crime or house fires. They assist children left alone after the death or injury of a parent, and frequently help older people after the loss of a spouse until family or friends arrive.
Who are they? They range in age from sweet 20-year-old Becca to amazingly resilient 86-year-old Ralph. Of the 52 volunteers, 43 are women and nine are men. Some have retired, others are still working. Backgrounds vary widely. A number are nurses, a few are counselors, and there’s a very popular ex-fireman in the group. They might have even worked in information technology. Some hit their knees and study their Bibles, others don’t believe in a place beyond this. To be honest, most could masquerade as little old ladies. What you don’t notice at first are the invisible neon signs flashing “Tough Chick” above their heads.
One thing that makes them different from the average citizen is that they are ready to jump into their car within five minutes of being called, and they aren’t too proud to change their clothes at a stoplight. These folks may have been living a normal life before they are texted to “Get ready,” but they arrive swiftly on the scene in somber maroon polo shirts with ID badges dangling from their necks. They can happily spend a Saturday listening to the likes of Medical Examiner Jeffery Nine lecturing on autopsies and ways his office can help the grieving.
Volunteer Laura Zimmer is 63 and a retired school psychologist who has been volunteering for six years. When you look in her eyes you know she is thoughtful and kind. “ACT,” she says, “is without a question the most meaningful thing I’ve ever done in my life.” She especially remembers the child death calls: the seven-year-old girl who died of an undiagnosed illness, and the 13-year-old who relinquished her life through suicide. Once Laura was at the hospital to help a newly widowed woman who had been married for 65 years. When she lost her husband the woman’s entire family was out of state, and one daughter was out camping. Resourceful Laura researched online, traced down the campground and called to connect the daughter to her mother in her time of need. Laura says that she’s “hoping that if I were in the same situation, that somebody would be there for me.”
This crisis-response group has been active since 2000, serving most of Yavapai County. All the volunteers are ready to meet people on the worst days of their lives, giving referrals to mortuaries and helping you make those difficult calls.
So the next time you stop at a red light, look at the senior on your right or the youngster in the car on your left. You may be in the presence of an ACT Superhero.
Coleen Stivers is a believer in good, a teller of tuth and a retired clinical social worker.