Retired Red Cross Nurse Helps Assuage Storm Victims' Pain
Fahnestock, Cathy, The Florida Times Union
Byline: Cathy Fahnestock, Special to the Times-Union
Yvonne Ellis of Mandarin is no stranger to calamity. In fact, she goes after it. On purpose.
Ellis, a retired psychiatric nurse, spends her days serving the American Red Cross by assisting people affected by disasters. When the recent hurricanes hit Florida, Ellis left the comfort of her home to provide nursing, mental health care and family services to hard-hit areas in Punta Gorda and Daytona Beach.
Always working on-site, she goes to where the people are. If they're in a shelter, she'll encourage the people there to play cards with each other or get the older children to read to the younger children.
"My approach when I am in the shelters because I am a nurse is to say, 'How are you feeling, may I take your blood pressure?' " Ellis said.
While in Daytona Beach during the aftermath of Hurricane Charley, Ellis worked out of the emergency relief center but also made home visits. Because of Charley's erratic nature, the city's living areas were dotted with destruction.
"It looked like a tornado that bounced around," Ellis said. "Charley dipped down in a variety of places, unlike Frances that cleared entire areas."
Felled trees, dented trailers, rain damage, littered streets and the biggest issue, power outages, caused grave concern for the volunteers. Ellis visited a wheelchair-bound man who couldn't leave his trailer. "Fortunately, he was all right," she said.
Because of her extensive training and experience, Ellis was one of the first people called upon to help with the devastation after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. For 10 days she worked double shifts, frequently changing locations while thanking merchants for their donations and visiting victims' homes, offering condolences and support from the Red Cross.
"What got you through working there was knowing you could leave and go home," Ellis said. "That and a firm handshake or tears of gratitude from the people I helped."
This year the American Red Cross of Jacksonville awarded Ellis the Disaster Services Exceptional Volunteer Award. No wonder. She has offered her time and talents generously in times of crisis for more than 25 years. She holds an RN degree from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a bachelor's of education from the University of Nebraska, and a master's degree in counseling from Georgia State University. …