Tag Archive for: SAMU First Response

Washington, D.C. Nonprofit Provides Relief During Texas Wildfires

Hutchinson County, Texas – The fires that have killed at least two people and scorched nearly 1.3 million acres of land in the Texas Panhandle are still raging. First responders and those displaced by the disaster are getting some relief from a SAMU First Response volunteer team sent from Washington, D.C., to help meet ongoing needs in the region.

Today, our Texas volunteer team has split time between two sites. At the first, a donation and distribution site located at The Dome Civic and Convention Center in Borger, SAMU’s  fully bilingual team has been able to support impacted residents with supplies.

“What we are seeing is trucks coming with ALL kinds of goods,” Mission Lead Borja González Escalada said. “There is no one showing up with just one box, but pallets of water, diapers, hand soap, new clothing and cleanup supplies. This is being distributed to the people so they have all they need for weeks.”

At a second site in nearby Canadian, SAMU team members received, organized and distributed farm supplies, including hay and feed resources, as well as fencing supplies. According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, about 85% of the state’s more than four jmillion cattle are located in the area. In some counties across the panhandle, the department reports that cattle population far exceeds people.

“The livelihoods of many cattle farmers in the area have been severely impacted by the fires,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said. “These fires not only threaten lives and property but will also have a substantial impact on our agriculture industry.”

Although four wildfires have been contained in Cass, Red River, Wood and Tyler Counties, active wildfires in Gray, Hutchinson, Moore and Oldham counties continue to burn. Most are between 55 and 85 percent contained, but the largest, the Smokehouse Creek Fire in Hutchinson County is about 15 percent contained. That blaze has become the largest wildfire in the state’s history and is estimated to have consumed a total of 1,076,638 acres. On Saturday, the Texas A&M Forest Service responded to four new requests for assistance with approximately 37 acres of wildfires burning across the state. Strong winds on Sunday prompted another evacuation in Sanford, Texas.

SAMU Staff goes the extra mile

“The SAMU First Response staff has been working around the clock to serve the increasing needs and arrivals of migrants from the border. This month, they received 26 buses from Texas and Arizona.”

The month of September this year in Washington, D.C. has been one of the busiest and most hectic months of 2023. The SAMU First Response staff has been working around the clock to serve the increasing needs and arrival of migrants from the border. This month, we received a total of 26 buses from Texas and Arizona, which thus far has been the most buses that we have received this year!

In order to successfully welcome and process each individual and family, the intake team worked long and hard hours receiving buses at any hour of the day and night. There were many days where the intake team worked 22-hours straight to welcome buses that arrived at 3:00am, 11:00am, and 10:00pm. These were the days when our team was most tired and worn-out, but they continued to show their commitment to helping others. Members of the entire staff banded together coming from the data and reporting team, management, and service/logistics team to help and assist their team members, by taking shifts to welcome buses so that they could give the intake team a day to be able to rest and return rejuvenated.  This is truly the definition of what teamwork looks like and how each staff member embodies the mission of SAMU to save lives.

During the month of September, our staff worked diligently to be available 24/7 for the increased arrival of buses and walk-ins. This was truly a time where the passion, heart, and dedication shone brightly from each team member of SAMU. We successfully welcomed 1,112 individuals to our welcome center and have supported 298 families during their migration journey (63.81% arrived from Texas, 15.24% arrived from Arizona, and 20.94% arrived as a walk-in directly referred to our reception center). We were able to offer shelter to 379 migrants at our dedicated respite centers located in Montgomery County in Maryland and Washington, D.C. Furthermore, we were able to purchase tickets for 497 individuals to travel onward to their final destinations where friends and families awaited their arrivals.

Although this month was a very busy and hard month for our staff, it truly showed how the staff members that work at each of the reception centers truly support each other and do everything they physically can to support those that need an extra hand when entering this country. By the end of September, we have welcomed 11,642 individuals since the start of our operations on June 21, 2022. We are lucky that our staff is willing and able to go the extra mile to serve each migrant that passes through our door, whether that be a birthday celebration for a child, providing a peaceful night of rest to be able to continue on in their journey, or our staff working 22 hours straight in a day away from their homes and families, all in the name of being able to help those that arrive to our respite center doors. The spirit of SAMU truly lives in each and every one of our staff members.

As the year ends and we are preparing for more arrivals from the border and walk-ins from other cities, we are also looking forward to providing moments of celebration for our guests and staff members. We are currently working on plans to celebrate Halloween, Day of the Dead, Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday, Christmas, New Years Eve, and other special traditions that are celebrated by each of the countries and cultures that are represented in the migrants that pass through our doors. We at SAMU First Response continue to strive to be a part of and help with the spark of hope and celebration that a new life in the United States brings.

The Intake Team of SFR: How the team has changed within one year

“The Intake team began working on the street without equipment and tools and now we have a secure location where the intake team can help migrants start their lives in the United States.”

On June 21, 2022 SAMU First Response in Washington, D.C. welcomed the very first bus at Union Station from Texas carrying 28 migrants. The arrival of the buses from Texas and Arizona started off by dropping off asylum seekers at Union Station, which is the heart of public transportation in D. C. It is located a mere 500 feet from the United States Capitol building, which is where the U.S. congress meets to write the laws of the nation and where every single U.S president was inaugurated into their position of power.

The buses would arrive anywhere from 5:00 am to 11:00pm and each week the timing varied.  In the very beginning, the team relied on five individuals dedicated to coordinating the operation, alongside the assistance of four volunteers from Spain that aided in additional support. Eventually the intake team was able to grow to eight dedicated team members. The intake job is to meet and welcome each bus and provide the basic needs of food, water, and clothing while talking to each individual and family to determine what is their plan and final destination within the United States.

Over the next 11 months the team operated out of the food court in Union Station and several generous churches that provided them space. This meant that with each bus that arrived supplies had to be gathered, counted, and stored in the personal vehicles of some of the team members. Once the buses arrived, the team would unload the items and bring them into the dedicated locations where they would be able to serve the buses and hope that the public wifi would be working that day. Amrine Obermueller, who has worked on the intake team since July 2022 recalls, “Every weekend we would greet the buses at the food court in Union Station. There were times when safety and security were in question, as it is a public space, and it was out of our control who would arrive to the space or attempt to speak to the migrants as they were taking moments of rest and waiting for our team to process travel.”

Today, the Intake team is a much more robust operation with 11 individuals dedicated to the arrival of the buses and walk-ins. With the growth and expansion of the Intake Team and the opening of the new D.C. respite location, the team is now able to welcome incoming migrants in a secure and safe location with a dedicated area to rest, facilities to store cold water or hot coffee, kitchen to prepare hot meals, clothing options and a secure place to change, and a dedicated play area for children to have an imagination again. With these positive changes, the intake team has been able to flourish even more in their positions and the resources they are able to provide for incoming migrants.

Marisela Castillo, Intake and Outreach Manager, has been able to witness the change of the Intake team and the way that they have been able to adapt over time with the resources provided. She says, “The Intake department from June 2022 to now has changed a lot. Intake began working on the street, outside bus stations, and without equipment or tools. We used tables from food courts as desks and carts as our storage. This team has always had plenty of commitment and love for the work. Now, the intake team has grown and evolved. We have people who speak French, English, and Spanish. We can now receive migrants, register and interview them, determine their needs and help them reach their final destination by providing them a safe place to rest and locate resources so that they can start their lives in the United States.”

Within a year the operation has changed immensely and Derick Alegria, who is the Lead Intake Specialist and has been a part of the Intake Team since June 2022, says that “Already a year has passed and there are so many stories to tell, but the most wonderful thing has been to witness how the intake team has grown. There used to be only four of us at Union Station receiving a bus from Texas at 6:00am and now we are 11 wonderful individuals on the team receiving buses in a secure location (with walk-in services), which I would have never imagined a year ago.”

As of today, the Intake Team has welcomed 230 buses from Texas and Arizona with over 10,000 migrants. Each member of the intake team is very proud to be part of such a dedicated and hard-working team while being able to aid in the journey of individuals trying to find a better life. “I believe that as an organization we have built something extremely successful from scratch. The preparation and execution of the process that we have been developing throughout this time has been very effective.” said Derick Alegria. As the organization grows and develops more resources in the future, the Intake team is excited to be part of the change and development to help every migrant arriving in the Washington, D.C. area.

The Power of Trust

Trust is foundational to what non-profit organizations do. It matters in every aspect of operations, beginning with the interpersonal relationships required when building teams. Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last, writes, “A team is not a group of people who work together. It is a group of people who trust each other.” 

Employees need to trust their leadership to forward the mission and prevent turnover. Similarly, when volunteers trust an organization, they will go out of their way to support their work. Trust also matters when seeking financial support. Every dollar or in-kind donation that is given to an organization is born of trust. In fact, in a publication titled, The Future of Trust, the international professional services company Deloitte reported that “trustworthy companies outperform non-trustworthy companies by 2.5 times.” 

But there is perhaps no place more critical for trust to exist than in the creation of strategic partnerships. 

SAMU has a long history of forging such relationships, including with fellow NGO, Project HOPE. Harley Jones is Project HOPE’s Senior Manager of Domestic Operations. He oversees the organization’s programming in the United States. 

“Trust is essential in our work because we are not selling products. We are organizations that are made up of humanitarians and good people, focused on alleviating human suffering at the worst times of their lives,” Jones said.

With two decades of experience in this field, Jones has seen partnerships that work, and others that fail. “There are a number of organizations that don’t like collaborating because it takes attention away [from them],” He said. But that’s just one of several factors that can lead to failure. Sometimes, Jones explained, the values and mission of the partners are just too different. Motives get questioned, and the lack of trust becomes an obstacle. “At the end of the day,” Jones said, “Mission is important,” explaining that – when values and mission align – it creates the perfect environment for a partnership to flourish. 

“You build that trust internally,” He said. “You know when you face a barrier, that other organization is often going to view it in the same way you do. That creates the opportunity to work together in other areas because you can go into it with that understanding without having to work around it. It’s that place where your values converge with your approach, your compassion and your focus on mission.”  

The Start Of A Beautiful Friendship

A mutual partner introduced SAMU to Project HOPE in 2017. The similarities between the organizations were evident immediately. “As two globally-based NGOs,” Harley Jones said, “Our focus has been on various places around the world, supporting vulnerable populations fleeing armed conflict or natural disaster.” 

SAMU and Project HOPE began looking for ways they might partner. It didn’t take long to identify an opportunity. In November of 2018, Juan González de Escalada Álvarez, Grupo SAMU’s Director of Operations Grupo Samu’s and Director of SAMU School, headed to Venezuela on what would become the first of many joint operations.

“I was asked to enter Venezuela with them to ascertain the Venezuelan Migrant Crisis,” He said. “We spent several days around Cúcuta in Colombia and the Venezuelan region of El Táchira.” The teams were exploring whether SAMU could provide Health Emergencies Training to local humanitarian organizations managing a large influx of displaced Venezuelans. 

That venture led to a significant partnership toward the end of 2020 in Honduras. The country was reeling from the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic when Tropical Storm Eta hit, followed closely by Hurricane Iota. The Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) activated Emergency Medical Teams to assist with the resulting crisis. SAMU joined that mission, with Project Hope partnering to provide the financial support that allowed SAMU’s team to meet the needs of nearly 1,200 patients. 

Most recently, Project HOPE supported SAMU in Moldova and Romania, where our teams on the ground provided support to refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine. During this joint mission, the teams were able to provide three and a half months of care for migrants affected by the crisis. Project HOPE provided 60 percent of the funding necessary for SAMU to perform more than 2000 medical consultations.  

Jones explained that the relationship between Project Hope and SAMU was a natural fit because of how well the strengths of the organizations align. Jean Oelwang, president and founding CEO of Virgin Unite, describes in her book, Partnering, how that alignment cultivates something she calls “Deep Connections.”

“Deep Connections are relationships of purpose that make us who we are,” She writes. “They are the enduring ‘got your back’ friendships found in all aspects of our lives. These relationships help us become our best selves and multiply the impact we make in the world.”

On Mission Every Day

Project HOPE’s mission is simple, but critically important: Empower frontline health care workers. Prior to the pandemic, the organization’s main focus had been geared toward vulnerable populations in the developing world. Covid travel restrictions rendered that work nearly impossible, requiring the organization to pivot toward domestic assistance. 

Jones said that, during this time, the NGO leaned heavily on their robust emergency response capability to help provide surge staffing to support frontline workers in some of the hardest hit areas, including Chicago/Cook County, Harris County in Texas and within the Navajo Nation. A strong supply chain allowed the organization to provide more than 18 million pieces of PPE across 15 countries in 2021 alone.    “We know enough about the work that we do to know that it has to be needs-based and it has to be fast,” Jones said. Other organizations are not that nimble, he explained, which is why Project HOPE was so drawn to partnering with SAMU. The migrant crisis in Washington, D.C., is a prime example. Although SAMU was in the United States hoping to open the organization’s first unaccompanied minor shelter on American soil, the teams on the ground were able to change gears quickly to tackle a new mission: Meeting the needs of thousands of migrants being bussed to the Nation’s capitol from the border of Mexico.

Meeting Crisis Head-On … Together

As SAMU First Response transitioned into a leadership role in addressing Washington, D.C.’s unfolding migrant crisis – which Mayor, Muriel Bowser, later would declare a state of emergency – one of the first calls made was to Project HOPE. Jones remembers that call, and the very direct and clear asks that were made.

“We need some capacity-building and support around logistics,” Jones remembers the SAMU team saying, which he shares is Project HOPE’s specialty – particularly when it comes to government funding. The organization runs $10 Million in programming with the federal government and has extensive experience with the reporting and documentation necessary when managing federal dollars.

SAMU First Response’s Respite Manager, Jeisson Cartagena, adds that the procurement process also presented a challenge for the growing team. “I didn’t have that much information on how to navigate government funding,” He said. “Project HOPE had that experience and was able to send someone to work with our team to help us better understand the process.” 

Jones recalls SAMU’s second ask: “We need some training around the stress, mental health and resiliency of our staff. We need tools that can help them take care of themselves and the people they are serving.” Project HOPE responded, providing classes on a variety of topics, from psychological first aid and gender-based violence, to sexual exploitation and de-escalation.

Cartagena remembers the resiliency training provided by Project HOPE as being extremely impactful for the staff. Migrants staying in SAMU’s respite center had been sharing stories of the violence, including sexual, experienced during their journey. 

“It created so much pressure for the staff,” He said. “Just hearing the stories… they did not know how to answer. We were hearing this information and keeping it to ourselves. That was the worst part of this work. It was really, really hard for our team.”

The resiliency workshop coupled with the psychological first aid training helped the SAMU team begin to understand the psychological process guests in their were experiencing. Cartagena said it shed light on why they might act a certain way and how to address issues as they arose. 

“That was important,” He explains, “Because it gave us the tools for how to handle this process. It is something we cannot change, but we can listen and put ourselves in their shoes. Just listening is the best way that we can help them. Now we are able to better care for our guests, and separate what is happening at work from our home lives.”

The final ask was perhaps the most critical, as buses previously bound for Union Station – a transportation hub in the heart of the city – began dropping migrants near the Naval Observatory and private residence of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris. The immediate surrounding area is largely unpopulated and migrants dropped without notice struggled to know where to go for assistance upon arrival. Jones remembers SAMU’s request around this challenge distinctly: “We need a large vehicle that can move people.”

In less time than than anyone would believe, the keys to a 14-passenger van were being handed to Cartagena. “Project HOPE was really focused on getting us the best possible option,” He said, adding that, suddenly, the weight of trying to arrange reliable transportation was lifted. Picking people up from wherever they were dropped off was no longer an issue, but that gift provided so much more. 

We can now take people to medical appointments. We can take them to Baltimore to change their address with ICE,” Cartagena said. “I was feeling like it was helping me to do my job better every day. I was feeling like it was for me, even though it was for SAMU. [Project HOPE] told me something like, ‘I hope this helps to make your job easier.’ And definitely it did.”

Jones says that partnering in this space has only increased the organization’s interest in further supporting SAMU’s work. As the trust between the NGOs grows, so does the value of the partnership between SAMU and Project HOPE. 

“It has made it even stronger,” Jones said. “Our relationship and trust were built on years of working together around the world. We have [now] shown that we can continue to work together in the United States. As SAMU looks to increase and expand their work here, Project HOPE stands ready, willing and able to support that work in any way we can.