Volunteer profile: Carl Schellenger – International Tracing Services

Last week we started introducing you to some of the Red Cross volunteers in Oregon who help drive our mission forward. Through these glimpses into their work, you will see the wonderful services they provide to people and communities affected by disaster. The profiles are written by our communications volunteer, Patrick Wilson.

Many Red Cross volunteers help people who are experiencing a disaster. Carl Schellenger works with people separated as a result of a disaster, either natural or manmade. This can be anything from a hurricane or tsunami, to a war or a rebellion. Carl works for the American Red Cross International Tracing Services, assisting victims in other countries to reconnect with family and loved ones located in the United States.

Tracing Services will assist victims if the individual they are seeking (1) is
a family member (usually immediate family), (2) was separated as a result of a
disaster, (3) cannot be located through normal means (phone, mail, etc.), (4)
is not a U.S. citizen (citizens can get assistance from our State Department.).
Usually Carl works with individuals who need to get a message to somebody (e.g.,
somebody seeking to reestablish contact); assists with welfare checks (e.g., an
elderly person or child who has lost touch and is not able to initiate
contact); or helps retrace somebody disconnected as the result of prior
conflicts (e.g., survivors of World War II). Carl cannot help if two people
have just drifted apart; the separation must be the result of a disaster.

As can be
imagined, his job provides lots of challenge. He must first ensure the request
is valid, but actually locating the lost party can make finding the Lost Ark
look like child’s play. The search can require months or even years. This is no
job for inpatient types or volunteers seeking quick success. Some complicating
factors include searching through a large refugee camp with incomplete records
or dealing with tribal elders with their own requirements about how things need
to be done. And even after the lost soul is located, they may not want to
reestablish contact.

Carl is not totally on his own. He gets assistance from other Red Cross
representatives, found in most other countries. In some cases the search can go
on for so long or situations can change so dramatically, that the trail goes
cold, sometimes more than once. Carl and his predecessors have been trying to
assist an 80-year-old survivor of World War II for nearly 60 years, but some of
the contacts were from Belarus, a country that no longer exists. According to
Carl, “At any point in time I can have several open cases in the office.”

Carl, like
most volunteers, also works in other areas of the Red Cross in Oregon. He is a
Disaster Assistance Team responder, does some public speaking often helping
others understand his tracing service, and periodically assist with training.
He joined Red Cross three years ago and says, “I love working at the Red Cross.
Everybody you meet is smiling and so nice.” Still, his advice to new volunteers
is, “You volunteered, don’t wait to be asked how you can help! Offer your
assistance wherever help appears to be needed.”

If you come
across Carl, you might want to ask him about some of his current searches or
even, his cold cases.


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