Serving traumatized survivors of Hurricane Katrina made Helen Zimmerli want to make a difference in a new way.
Helen and husband Robert went the Gulf Coast for the Red Cross, helping to distribute food and goods from an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV).
"We were serving lunches when a young man came into the kitchen," said Helen, who lives in Camp Verde. "He seemed greatly distressed and he came toward me."
When he couldn't get out the words, Helen had him sit down with her and comforted him the best she could. He broke down and cried in her arms.
"When it was all over, I said to Rob and some other people, 'I wish I knew what were the proper things to say."
She instinctively knew not to tell a trauma victim that everything was going to be all right. But that was all.
Back in the Verde Valley, Zimmerli saw a notice in the newspaper about a training course for a new Trauma Intervention Program (TIP) and thought it was exactly what she was looking for.
Last week, Zimmerli was one of five people in the Verde Valley who complete the two-week course. The group not only had intensive training, with lots of reading material, but also had to be screened. Several people did not make it through the process.
TIP trains volunteers to go on site at traumatic events such as fires, deaths and accidents, to provide emotional and practical support. Frequently in tragic situations, emergency personnel do not have the time or manpower to tend the traumatized. They are left to deal on their own or with friends or family who don't quite understand how to help them emotionally. TIP fills in that void.
Although it is in use across the country, the Yavapai Chapter is the only TIP chapter in Arizona. The Yavapai Chapter has been operating since 2000 on the other side of the mountain.
Now the Verde Valley Fire District is the first agency in the Verde Valley to contract with the TIP chapter.
"We get so many different types of volunteers," said Shannon Byers, Community Relations coordinator for TIP, "but usually they have experienced a personal tragedy themselves and know what it's like to be alone."
The training was and was not what Zimmerli expected. There was role playing and handy advice. But there was also a trip to a funeral home on "Death Day" and rides on emergency calls with fire station 31.
She calls Sue Rutherford, the Crisis Team manager, a "take no prisoners" type of leader and a very thorough instructor.
"I learned a lot," she said.
The TIP volunteers receive pagers, safety vests for nighttime work and a container of goods with a variety of aids. That can include a blanket, comfort toys for children, coloring books, organizational booklets with all the right numbers to call, bags, pencils and all sorts of miscellaneous items. A woman's group in Prescott makes drawstring bags that help in the distribution of those items.
TIP volunteers, Helen Zimmerli said, are there to listen, protect, reassure and re-enforce. They help those going through a trauma prioritize the important things that need to be done. Situations range from a natural death in the home to crime scenes.
"We would like to be able to cover all of Yavapai County in five years," Byers said. "We've gotten interest from other areas as well, but our focus is on Yavapai."
The TIP board had been trying to place its program in the Verde Valley for some time, and Byers said VVFD Chief Mike Flummer was instrumental in making that happen after seeing it in another area.
Besides Zimmerli, other Verde Valley TIP graduates include Judy and Bud Hendrix of Cornville, Jan Grogan of Cottonwood and Liz Lindsey of Lake Montezuma. Volunteers sign a six-month contract.
The next TIP training in Cottonwood is July 13-Aug. 2 at Verde Valley Fire District. For more information about the program, contact Sue Rutherford at (928) 445-4655, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.tipyavapai.org.