I think we have all been through events that have felt stressful and sat by and watched how leadership handled the situation. Some leaders are only meant to survive. Unfortunately, not all of these scenarios are worthy of a blog post of recognition. There are some leaders who become agitated. There are some leaders who find the negative and multiply misery through constant complaining. There are some leaders who become angry micro-managers. There are some leaders who shut down completely. Then, there are also some leaders who THRIVE! I was humbled to be a part of a system of true servant leadership amidst the chaos and trauma of Hurricane Irma, as part of the TRIBE who worked at the Freshman Learning Center,Vero Beach High School Red Cross shelter.
I want to begin with Chief O'Keefe, the Principal from Vero Beach High School. Shawn O'Keefe was everything you would want from a leader. I've known him as a colleague, but I could have never imagined the strength and heart he showed throughout our time in the shelter. He was planned out, calm, an advocate for his facility, and an even stronger advocate for the people of the shelter. He was a true humanitarian throughout the 60 hours that we spent together, insisting that every single client at the shelter be treated with respect and dignity. I watched as he led through his actions, not his words. Personally, seeing him grab cots, blankets, and pillows for some of our elderly clients, setting up areas that would make them more comfortable through the storm.
I watched as he participated in the events we had, made jokes with our new friends, and shared his love of helping others. He inspired his entire crew to go beyond just "running a shelter" and encourage us to create an environment that would ease the stress of the impending storm and possible damage to our area. Kudos to O'Keefe for strong leadership!
Shawn O'Keefe also led and inspired a team of administrators that went so far above and beyond the
call of "shelter duty." Vero Beach High School Assistant Principals Greg Ahrens, Rachel Serra, and Megan Kendrick; along with District Director of Assessment and Accountability, Chris Taylor. We set up an environment that became far more like a cruise ship, then a shelter housing the elderly, homeless, and evacuees from the storm. With over 400 people in the shelter, we managed games of Bingo, chairobics, a National Guard led kids dance off, movie night, and an acoustic musical review. We were entertained by the hourly updates over the sound system by Rachel Serra, keeping us amused, informed, and calm throughout the entire experience.
This team of servant leaders went beyond the call of duty, including Megan Kendrick calling in friends and family to bring extra blankets, pillows, and even giving away her own belongings including air mattresses to ensure others were comfortable. We watched as each leader's passion for helping others led to 20 hour days of true humbled actions. Helping our new friends get to the restroom, sharing stories to help ease stress, and watching as our shelter began taking on it's own life of inspired volunteerism.
The leadership didn't stop with administration, VBE School Nurse, Claudia Viladrosa, was a part of the incredible team that assisted. She even brought her daughter Angelica and her friend, Bradford Heidrich along to help. Angelica and Bradford, both college students, spent over 55 hours, including night shifts, volunteering in the shelter assisting the elderly, helping set up, caring for our new friends. Two of the hardest working kids with the biggest hearts, kudos to you both for RISING UP.
Our team watched as the kindness began to spread. We witnessed incredible acts from our very own evacuees. Children from our local schools began walking water and snacks to our elderly and disabled patrons.
Families gave up their belongings to help others in need. Others jumped right in to assist; spending hours setting up areas and moving belongings for others so they would feel safe and settled through the stress. We watched as Jhonathan Vite, Sebastian River High School Sophomore and his father helped over 30 families not only set up, but break down their sites once the storm passed by.
Overall, I couldn't be more humbled, inspired AND PROUD to be a part of the SDIRC community.
Thank you to all the Red Cross, EOC District Personnel, National Guard, and First Responders for everything you have done throughout the storm to keep our citizens safe! We are SDIRC STRONG!
Also- Thank you to WAWA- who insisted on giving us free coffee the day we came in before setting up the shelter. Sometimes, it's the little things that make us feel "warm" and comforted!