From health care to food, this mother-daughter volunteer duo at LCCM know how to handle an emergency
April is National Volunteer Month. We want to celebrate our volunteers by telling their stories!
In her career in the emergency services field, Dorlee Kreitzer knew how handle an emergency.
So when she retired from the Pennsylvania State Police after years as a police communications operator and instructor, she came to Lebanon County Christian Ministries to volunteer her time to serve people who were experiencing a different kind of emergency.
A year later, her daughter, Nicole Kreitzer, an EMT with First Aid and Safety Patrol, would join her to help service people in need of emergency food, clothing and shelter.
“As an EMT, an emergency is life or death,” Nicole said. “They have a situation happening now that if we don’t fix, it could kill them. Whereas when there’s an emergency here (at LCCM), if we don’t help them it doesn’t mean they will die today, but they could have a long-term issue if we don’t help them today.”
As an emergency dispatcher, Dorlee heard her share of heartbreaking pleas for help over the phone for everything from medical emergencies to domestic violence, overdoses and car crashes.
Over her long career she served as an EMT, firefighter and dispatcher for Lebanon city and state police, and served as a dispatch instructor.
So when she started at LCCM nearly a decade ago, she had one request.
“I had spent 26 years listening to people’s problems, and I don’t want to do that anymore,” she recalled telling the volunteer trainer. “I said, I think I want to be put in the warehouse away from people.”
But Dorlee said things didn’t work out that way, and God had other plans for bringing her to LCCM. Plans that involved – you guessed it- listening to people’s problems.
She started out in the food pantry, where she interacted with guests who came to pick up their emergency food orders. A need opened up for an intake specialist twice a week who would interview guests in need of food and clothing, but staff were having a difficult time finding a volunteer to fill the position. Dorlee offered to do it temporarily until they could find someone else.
She turned to Nicole and laughed, saying, “well, that ended up being permanent!”
She interviewed people for years and found out about their employment situation, the bills they owed, debt, the relational issues they faced, as well as their health issues, transportation woes and other obstacles. Some problems were out of their control, but others were self made, she said. And she struggled finding the balance between being tough and being loving. After spending her career in emergency services, she said she had become callous – not because she wanted to, but because she had to do the job.
“In all fairness to everyone involved in emergency services, you have to have thick skin because to deal with the death, to try to get someone out of a car who is injured, or just helping someone who can’t breath …when someone says ‘please help me’ you have to have thick skin because otherwise you’re not going to make it through,” she said. “So when I came here, I was callous and didn’t want to be – and I think God brought me here to soften my heart. Maybe I was brought here to soften my heart and realize I could still be tough, but no longer callous.”
Nicole agrees, and said she and her mother both learned life lessons at LCCM and have grown in their Christian faith thanks to their church and their time volunteering.
Nicole said she has learned to not judge people without speaking to them. She gave an example of how a guest showed up with seven children to received emergency food. As it turns out, the woman who came took in a friend’s four children and was temporarily taking care of all these children by herself.
“When they came in here the one little girl, she was about 4 years old, they had all this food. Now think about how much food this was. And out of all the food that she was most excited about, she said, ‘there’s milk!’” Nicole said, looking up as if she were talking to God and said “I am so sorry!”
Nicole also said the friendships she has made at LCCM over the years have been crucial to her life. Two years into her time here, she was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor that grew to the size of a golf ball, and staff visited her at home as she recuperated.
Since then, Nicole had been able to share her testimony about how she was able to resume a normal life just six weeks after surgery. She has been reminded at LCCM that there are people who may be struggling more, and that no matter where she is, she can share her experience with others.
“There are testimonies all around us,” Dorlee chimed in. She gave two examples. Dorlee sat in the waiting room at Hershey Medical Center years ago while Nicole underwent surgery to remove the tumor. An employee could tell Dorlee was distraught, so she tapped her on the shoulder and said she too has a brain tumor, and that it’s inoperable.
“And she said ‘but it will be OK.’ It was just one of those things. God gives you testimonies everywhere.”
The other example was when a woman came to LCCM for an emergency food order. She told Dorlee that she was diagnosed with cancer and all she wanted to do was go back to work. She had asked if LCCM had any Ensure, a protein drink that was too expensive for the woman to afford.
“And for some reason or another,” Dorlee said, ‘we had just gotten an entire case of Ensure that morning…we just piled her up with this Ensure because we don’t give it away to too many people. Those are the kinds of things to me that I think God brought me here for. Just to show me that no matter how hard life gets, there’s always someone who has it a little worse…this is my happy place.”
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Lebanon County Christian Ministries