Friday, December 7, 2012

Visually Impaired Volunteer Brings her Positive Spirit — and Seeing Eye Dog – to the Sandy Operation

by Lilly Watson

American Red Cross volunteers of many backgrounds from cities across America fill the fourth floor of Red Cross Greater New York regional headquarters before heading out into the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Leah Seabury, age 24, manages to stand out among her diverse peers. It’s likely that Ralphie, her lovable guide dog, who stands close by on his harness ready to help her move around headquarters and out on visits to disaster victims, helps her do so.

In New York, on her first deployment from the Raleigh Regional chapter in North Carolina, Seabury works in a multitude of service delivery areas, including a Disaster Action Team and Client Casework, her current assignment. Seabury said her passion for public service is what brought her to the Red Cross three years ago when she received Ralphie as her guide dog.

“I love helping people, and if I had my vision, I would work in public safety,” Seabury shared. “The Red Cross gave me the chance to still live my passion for helping others despite my disability. “

Seabury enjoys the opportunity to personally talk to and help people who are at a low point in their lives. A smile lights her face when talking about her work with the Red Cross. She loves how disaster victims willingly open up to her and share what they’ve been through. Often, their stories begin through conversations with Ralphie.

“When I can tell someone has been through a lot, I’ll let Ralphie out of his harness and the family will start loving on him,” Seabury explained. “A person might open up and begin talking to Ralphie about what he or she is feeling before being ready to share with us.”

While Seabury and Ralphie bring needed emotional support to those affected by disaster, Ralphie also is a special addition to the team that can make casework easy for children and parents alike.

Seabury said, “He loves to keep children entertained and comforted, which helps parents get a head start on casework.”

While she is fresh to the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief operation, Seabury feels like the challenges she faces are no different than any other Red Cross volunteer on deployment: Mostly learning how to be flexible and positive as community needs change. She welcomes anyone with a unique background or ability to come learn how they can bring their skills to bear at the Red Cross.

“There’s always a way you can reach out to help someone through the Red Cross,” Seabury said. “Disabled to me means ‘not able to do,’ but I don’t think there’s a place for that at the Red Cross. I think there is always something someone can do to help others, and it’s all about finding what that is.”

Photo (by Destry Carr): Leah Seabury and Ralphie, her guide dog, at Greater New York regional headquarters after a day out in the field. Red Cross caseworkers like Seabury meet with affected families after a disaster to ensure that their immediate needs are met while they work to begin their long term recovery plan.

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