The Superheroes From Red Cross
Wednesday - March 16, 2011
On Father’s Day, Steven Kleckner hugged his son close as they stood together on a Makiki street - and watched their home go up in flames.
“I was confused,” he told me as we sat in the Red Cross conference room. “I was, like, why is this happening? And more emotions came after that. What am I gonna do now? The helplessness. The only thing I had was board shorts on and a pair of sandals.”
But Kleckner knew he was a very lucky man. He had been about to drift off to sleep when he thought he smelled smoke. He felt a wall - it was warm. He stumbled out of bed and went to the bedroom where his 12-year-old son Alex was sleeping with two friends.
“I woke my son up and I said we probably need to get outside. As they left the bedroom, the fire actually came right around where their little heads had been. It was a close call.”
They made it out just as fire engulfed their third-floor unit.
“Going through my mind at that moment ... the things that I’m losing. All my clothes, all these things, material things. But I looked over at my son and realized that’s the most important thing. That he got out. All I could do was hug him.”
In his confusion, the Army specialist was a little shell-shocked watching his home smolder, when help arrived and tapped him on the shoulder.
“They came out of nowhere, pretty much like a superhero in the night,” he recalls.
The man identified himself as a volunteer for the Red Cross of Hawaii. He asked Kleckner where they were staying for the night.
“He just offered to put me up in a hotel. I was kind of confused. Why was he being so nice? I didn’t know all that they (the Red Cross) did.”
The man gave him some money. The next day, Kleckner took Alex shopping for clothes. They went to a movie, he doesn’t remember which one.
“We tried to enjoy Father’s Day as much as we could.”
Jessie Kozel, Oahu disaster coordinator for the Hawaii State chapter, followed up with the Kleckners. She said his reaction is pretty typical of disaster victims - feelings of confusion and hopelessness. The volunteers know this and try to eliminate the need to make major decisions right after suffering a loss. Only later, when the family has had a bit of time, do they gently nudge the victims forward.
“We follow up with families and try to get them thinking about their recovery. We ask, what is your plan for tomorrow?”
The Red Cross provided Kleckner with a security deposit and first month’s rent on a new apartment.
Kleckner, who sent his son to live with his former wife until he gets back to something close to normal, will never forget how the Red Cross helped him at a time he was at his most vulnerable.
“There’s a feeling of hopelessness. That pretty much sums it up, just hopelessness,” he says. “Like your hands are tied. The only thing I could rely on was help from other people.”
That help came at no cost to him, but he knows it wasn’t really free. The Red Cross relies on contributions from all of us to do its job. Kleckner had donated to the Red Cross before his own collision with disaster. He plans to give again - and often:
“Just to be able to give back, it makes me feel like I’m part of the Red Cross.
Now I want to give as much as I can.”
When asked to sum up his feelings about the “super-hero” organization, Kleckner had one word.
That can be said of people in Japan too. Less than 24 hours after the devastating earthquake and tsunami, Red Cross announced it was sending help.
You can help keep the Hawaii Red Cross in the business of helping disaster victims. Just check out the “Awesome Online Auction” taking place until March 20. Bid on cars, vacations, restaurant certificates, golf, jewelry and much more. Go to hawaiiredcross.org for the auction or to make a donation.
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