Fulfilling Our Mission Amid COVID-19

…in the Community

Travelers Aid at Washington Union Station received a call for help from Norfolk General Hospital in Virginia, requesting our assistance to return a young woman to her home to Charlotte, North Carolina. The hospital worker stated that the woman was injured and then hospitalized as she broke away from a human trafficking ring in the Hampton Roads area (near Norfolk). Travelers Aid called the parents, who understandably were extremely worried and gladly gave permission to Travelers Aid to return the woman upon her release from the hospital. The hospital social worker promised that the woman would be escorted to Greyhound by the local police.

…to Assist Travelers

Travelers Aid at New York’s JFK International Airport received a call from the terminal operator asking for assistance with a traveler who had been stranded at the airport for more than a week. The gentleman – Bishop Igbinigie, of the United Temple of God International Mission of Nigeria – was set on returning to his home in West Africa but had no idea that borders had been closed and his flight from JFK was not operating due to the pandemic.

An airport employee suggested – as it turns out, unfortunately – that he could catch the flight out of Newark International, so he then spent what money he had left for a taxi to EWR, only to discover the same situation there. The bishop returned to JFK and, not knowing where to turn, used the grand opening of the airport’s COVID-19 testing center to attract attention to his plight, begging to go home as the cameras rolled! (Photo below by Airport Voice)

An inspector with the Port Authority Police Department directed the bishop to Travelers Aid, and TAI Program Manager Jane Mrosko and Office Coordinator Amanda Sorensen assessed that the man had a cousin in California. They contacted the relative, who agreed to pay for his flight to Los Angeles, if TAI could make the arrangements. TAI made the flight arrangements, facilitated the bishop’s check-in and made sure he got to the gate. It was all about connecting, listening, learning and seeking solutions; in other words, the TAI way!

TAI Annual Conference Rescheduled for May 12-14, 2021

For the safety and security of all involved, the Travelers Aid International leadership has decided to reschedule its 2020 annual conference, originally set for Sept. 9-11, until May 12-14, 2021. The meeting will still take place at The TWA Hotel, located on the grounds of New York’s JFK Airport.

TAI, in an effort to maintain connected with the membership despite the postponement of the conference, has decided to hold a series of webinars via Zoom, starting this fall. The first session will take place, fittingly, on Sept. 9, with a presentation by Jason Miller, CEO of Families Forward Philadelphia, on Self Care, focusing on how to take care of yourself while taking care of others. Details on the participation process for these events will be coming soon.

First Day Back Diary From DCA Volunteer Cheryl Robinson

On June 29, Greg Snyder and I returned to the airport for our Monday 10 a.m.-2 p.m. shift. We were the first volunteers at the Info B desk and were extremely excited about being back with an actual planned event on our calendars! We both arrived early to explore.

The desk setup at Info B is great. As a volunteer, you are pretty much surrounded by plexiglass and it feels safe to be there. We were able to navigate the online info manual with only a few hitches. Most of the equipment at the desk needed some TLC since it had not been used for some time but was up and running by the end of our shift.

Greg and I observed that about 90% of the people at the airport are wearing masks, and wearing them properly. We do want to stress how important it is for airport employees and volunteers to wear their masks covering both the mouth and nose at all times.

(Airport Manager) Paul Malandrino stopped by the desk to welcome us back and said that this week was going to be the busiest in some time because of the upcoming July 4 weekend. On Mondays, Greg and I each typically help about 100 – 120 guests. On June 29, our combined total of assists was 120. Per usual, there were some very slow periods during our shift, although at other times the volume of passengers felt almost normal. I think our most frequent question on Monday was, “How do I get out of here?”

If you are thinking about coming back as a volunteer, please know that both Greg and I felt safe and comfortable. The plexiglass is tall and extends to the end of the desk. It was difficult to hear at times when there were two people at both ends of the plexiglass trying to talk with us at the same time. Mostly it was manageable, however, and we look forward to returning to the same place, same time next week.

Board Perspective—Mollie Hester

(Mollie is the manager of Travelers Aid of Greater Birmingham.)

When I was a university student, one of my instructors organized a tour of local nonprofits for us, and Travelers Aid was one of them. We visited at their Greyhound location and I remember the teacher saying that Travelers Aid was “the definition of social work in

action.” That stuck with me and, for the past 36 years, it has held true.

It’s one of the things I appreciate
most about our work. We, quite
literally, meet people where they are — both in life and in location — to assist them out of crisis.

Those in the Travelers Aid network who know me also know how passionate I am about the organization’s history, both nationally and locally. Travelers Aid has been a trail-blazing organization for well over 100 years, responding, adapting and innovating its services to meet the highly specialized needs of the traveling public, as well as the greater community. There is none other like it, and I consider my association with Travelers Aid not only a privilege but also a gift. I’ve met hundreds of people over the years and have learned something from each and every one of them.

TAI member Catholic Charities of Gainesville, Fla., is holding its first-ever “Christmas in July Virtual Auction” later this month. Items to be put up for bid include one-of-a-kind gift baskets, vacations, collectibles and gift certificates (from local merchants). Proceeds raised from the auction will be used to help those in the Gainesville community who have been hit the hardest by the economic impact of the pandemic. The event will open to the public at noon on July 25 and close at 9 p.m. on Aug. 1. Questions should be directed to Laurie Porter via e-mail at lporter@ccgnv.org or by phone at (352) 224-6442.

Volunteer Spotlight — Ralph Driscoll

“People who do not do volunteer work don’t know what they are missing; the thanks one gets from travelers are better than a paycheck.”

Those are the words of Ralph Driscoll, a TAI volunteer at Washington Reagan National Airport since Jan. 1, 2009 – when he was 85. Now, during a year in which he will turn 97, he has decided to hang up his blue jacket.

The TAI staff at DCA extends a fond

farewell to Ralph and shared a few memories of the time spent working with him at the airport:

“We so understand and support your decision, but oh, how you will be missed! Your presence gave our program major bragging rights for years. We loved being able to describe the age range of our volunteers from ‘a 16-year-old high schooler to our 90+-year-old gentleman who works every single Saturday and is sharp as a tack!’ And what a true gentleman you have been. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for being a part of our team since New Year’s Day, 2009.”

“Ralph! Who will I use for inspiration now? I’m sure you never knew that whenever I faced having to walk yet one more time around the airport, I would think, ‘Ralph walked the Appalachian Trail when he was 67; I can at least walk to Terminal B!’ Your stories and jokes were priceless. I hope you are still ballroom dancing and teaching yourself bridge. Saturdays just won’t be the same, but thank you for all your years helping passengers.”

Congratulations, Ralph. Much continued happiness and good health!

Staff Spotlight — Shelia Dashiell

Travelers Aid was my first job in Washington, D.C., following my relocation in 1985 from my home state of New Jersey. A social worker, I initially worked at TAI’s administrative office previously located at 12th and K streets, N.W. – the youngest employee at the location! – before eventually moving to Washington Union Station and into my current job as TAI program manager.

I’ve seen many changes and locations during my tenure, but the commitment to serve has never wavered.

I have had two children since I started at Travelers Aid. My seven-year-old granddaughter is a Union Station whiz, and now not only are both my daughter and son-in-law weekend volunteers, but another Travelers Aid granddaughter is due on Christmas Day!

The volunteers at Union Station are an
awesome group of people, who, although small in number, are large in both heart and determination. They are the glue and I am honored to acknowledge both their resources and passion.
During this pandemic, my cohort, Dr. Willie Ringold, and I continue to support individuals and families through extensive exploration and, when necessary, financial assistance for their return home. The situations and stories have not ceased during this crises, but Travelers Aid has risen to the challenge of supporting those most at risk, including victims of domestic violence, those with mental health challenges and others facing homelessness.

I am excited to continue this professional journey, and look forward to returning to Union Station when conditions allow, along with all of our wonderful volunteers.

Five Things We Love About Chicago O’Hare International Airport

(This is one in a series of posts in the blog “Stuck at the Airport,” by Harriett Baskas, highlighting favorite features at airports around the country. Due to health concerns, some features and amenities at ORD may be temporarily unavailable.)

Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) is located about 14 miles from downtown Chicago. Originally named Orchard Field Airport, the airport was renamed O’Hare International Airport in 1949 to honor Lieutenant Commander Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare, a Chicagoan killed during WWII. Travelers Aid Chicago is located at O’Hare.

# 1 THE AEROPONIC GARDEN

The aeroponic garden grows herbs and vegetables, including basil, lettuce, beans and edible flowers, all without soil. Many restaurants in the airport have used ingredients harvested from this garden.

# 2 THE BRACHIOSAURUS

The Field Museum has been kind enough to loan ORD a skeleton model of a Brachiosaurus excavated in 1900 by one of the museum’s paleontologists. The model is four stories tall and 72 feet long and hard to miss in Terminal 1, Concourse B, near the entrance to the tunnel to Concourse C.

#3 THE SHOE HOSPITAL

The Shoe Hospital at ORD not only offers shoe shining services, they can fix broken heels, sell you shoelaces, put another hole in your leather belt and, in a pinch, fix a suitcase or a strap on your carry-on bag.

#4 ART

Entertaining and iconic, “The Sky’s the Limit,” by Michael Hayden, is a 745-foot-long kinetic light sculpture in the tunnel connecting Concourses B and C in Terminal 1.

#5 THE FIGHTER PLANE

ORD displays a replica of the WWII F4F-3 fighter plane flown by the airport’s namesake, Lt. Commander Edward “Butch” O’Hare. Find it on the north end of Terminal 2, near Gate E1.

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