Dan Vandersteen was thankful to be home after working for two weeks in Louisana following hurricane Katrina. Vandersteen, a counselor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., worked for the American Red Cross at a shelter in Houma, La.
The shelter, located about 50 miles southwest of New Orleans, housed more than a thousand evacuees from New Orleans who were waiting to see what the next day would bring.
Vandersteen’s task was to provide mental and emotional counseling to evacuees and to the shelter staff. The Houma shelter housed a number of people who had been in the Superdome in New Orleans. “Those people,” said Vandersteen, “had been traumatized.”
He worked each day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then again from 9 p.m. to midnight. “When the lights went out, people needed to talk,” he said.
Vandersteen said it was one of the toughest assignments he’s ever had, a telling statement considering he also volunteered at Ground Zero in New York City after Sept. 11, 2001.
Vandersteen said many of the evacuees leaned on their faith in the midst of their suffering. “I would listen to them,” he said, “and help them in whatever ways I could. And then I would always ask them, ‘What else can we do for you?’ They often would say they needed to pray.” So Vandersteen set up twice-daily prayer times in the shelter.
“People were scared and hurting,” he says, “but when you simply listen to them, when you respond to them honestly and sincerely and give them a chance to have their needs met, people are grateful.”
—Calvin College Media Relations