Hurricane Katrina has left an unforgettable mark on the Gulf Coast. It also has changed a Thomson High School nurse.
"I used to think I was a humble person, but I'm not as sensitive as I thought I was," said Mary Drye, Thomson High School nurse and Red Cross volunteer for 10 years, who recently returned from spending two weeks in Alabama as part of rescue efforts. "I will look at things differently from now on, and hopefully I will be better."
Ms. Drye said while talking with Jim Franklin, assistant superintendent of McDuffie County Schools, in early September, she mentioned that she was a Red Cross volunteer.
"He picked up on it, and the next thing I know, I was on an airplane," she said.
Ms. Drye said she has always worked as a mental health nurse for the Veteran's Administration, then for the Red Cross. She usually serves the Red Cross by counseling and assisting local victims of home fires. The trip to Alabama was her first national level experience with the Red Cross.
After arriving in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Ms. Drye said she was re-assigned from the mental health clinic to Individual Client Services, where she interviewed victims to discover their needs.
"When I went to CLS, I got to help them from the beginning," Ms. Drye said. "I got to service each individual personally one at a time, and I could get them their money vouchers that same day."
Of all the people she helped, Ms. Drye said two different young women impressed her the most. These two women both had young children. Their houses were flooded, but they still lived in them. Ms. Drye said because they were still in their houses, they didn't qualify for assistance. Yet she worried about them because the houses were not safe.
"The electrical outlets were under water, so it was unsafe for them to be in there. They were so appreciative to me just for listening to them," Ms. Drye said. "They were disappointed that I couldn't help them, but they were still very gracious, and that impressed me."
The difficult part was seeing all the children, she said. They had lost all their material possessions. Even though their physical needs were being met, Ms. Drye said she felt it wasn't enough.
"Their material possessions can be replaced, but it goes beyond that," she said.
In addition to interviewing victims for CLS, Ms. Drye said she worked in records at the Red Cross Headquarters. She said all the paperwork gave her a "whole new level of understanding."
The trip made an impression on Ms. Drye that she will never forget. She said seeing the long lines of people waiting to apply for help and hearing their stories helped her to be more understanding. Ms. Drye said the people came to her with their needs, and she had to imagine herself in their place.
"It's how you approach that person initially," she said. "When I walked in, there were long lines of people looking at me, and I'm not a morning person, but I would speak to them warmly."
Ms. Drye feels the experience will make a difference in her job at the high school.
Ms. Drye said she has received nothing but encouragement from the faculty at Thomson High School. She said the teachers have written her notes of appreciation, and are interested in her trip. Principal Rudy Falana told her how proud he is of her and glad that she's back.
She is scheduled to attend four more training classes for the Red Cross in the next two months, so "next time I will be able to help better, because I will be trained on another level." If and when she returns, Ms. Drye said it will be on her own time, although she is grateful to the school board for paying her salary while she was in Alabama.
"There's nothing I won't do to help the Red Cross; I have great respect for them," she said. "And of course, there's nothing I won't do for these students. I help them when they are injured in football. They mean a lot to me, they are our future."