Thursday, June 27, 2013

City staff help evacuees feel at home

Village Square Leisure Centre (VSLC) has over a million Calgarians come through their doors every year to enjoy the wave pool, waterslides, library and recreation classes. But in the late afternoon of June 20th, Village Square became a refuge for over 300 Calgarians who had to leave their homes in the wake of the floods. City of Calgary staff quickly mobilized on-site to set up cots, gather supplies and begin the task of welcoming displaced citizens into their temporary home.

Deanna Qualtieri, a 17-year veteran of the City of Calgary, is the daytime Reception Centre Manager (RCM) at Village Square. Working 12 hour shifts every day since June 21, she is responsible for keeping the place running – she keeps in constant contact with the Emergency Operations Centre and makes sure that the residents on-site are safe, fed and as comfortable as possible.

Helping her fellow citizens is nothing new to Deanna, in her regular job with The City, she is a Youth Probation Officer working in the Youth at Risk Development (YARD) program. As a social worker, she helps youth aged 10 – 17 who are at risk of getting involved with gangs or trying to exit the lifestyle. Her ability to run such a critical Reception Centre during times of crisis comes from her involvement with Emergency Social Services, a City of Calgary run employee network that provides training and courses in emergency management.

Although the days are long during a crisis and the stories she hears can be heart-breaking, she says that she is “super impressed with how the staff are mindful of the stress and anxiety that the evacuees must be feeling. They are open and creative, always looking at different programming they can provide.”

Michelle Tait, a Recreation Supervisor with VSLC, says “we are a leisure centre so getting people active is our skill set. We really want families to feel warm and welcome in such a devastating scenario.” They came together yesterday to brainstorm ways to engage the evacuees and make their stay more enjoyable.

“Yesterday we offered Yoga, Tai-chi and Zumba – which was a huge hit with over 25 people. We did a community walk this morning to get the people some fresh air.” They have also made babysitting services available so parents can decompress. Yesterday, a face painter came by and painted the faces of the over 40 children who are currently living at VSLC. Michelle notes, “the kids were running around the building with huge smiles.” Musicians and other artists have also visited to brighten peoples’ days – like the guitarist, who serenaded people with Here Comes the Sun, a fitting choice for the days ahead.

Many City of Calgary staff from all areas have suspended their regular jobs and dived into the work of helping Calgarians in this time of crisis. It’s hard work, but the staff deployed at Village Square, and reception centres across the city, feel privileged that they have ability to help. “As much as we’re tired, I go home feeling good about what we’ve done,” says Michelle.