MORRISON – As with many in retirement, Cindie Waters spends a good chunk of her time traveling.
But she is not going elsewhere to have fun. Rather, she responds to disasters around the country.
As an American Red Cross volunteer, the Morrison woman recently went to Newtown, Conn., to help the families of the victims in the school shootings.
In a building on the outskirts of Newtown, the authorities set up a center to help the community with the tragedy. Family members met with FBI agents there.
In that building, Waters, who was in Newtown for 6 days, asked the families what they needed.
One family wanted help cleaning their house. After 50 people visited while they mourned, they didn’t have the time or energy to get around to household chores.
The Red Cross arranged for a firm to provide cleaning service for 6 months.
Another family wanted the twin of a victim to go to a water park with her friends, so she could take her mind off the tragedy. The Red Cross answered that request, getting an indoor water park to agree to letting the group get in for free.
The Red Cross also sought to organize meals going to families. Some received five or six dinners every night after the shootings, Waters said.
“We were asking people to give in another way,” she said.
Waters, 65, has a Red Cross friend near Newtown who asked her to help. Waters arrived Dec. 17, 3 days after the shootings.
“Newtown is a nice little town that absolutely lost its innocence,” Waters said. “It won’t be the same. It can’t be.”
Like everyone, Waters got emotional at times, but not in front of the families.
“I was told that you sit there, listen, take a deep breath, and try not to get emotional,” she said.
Afterward, she was advised, she could go around a corner and cry.
“Of course,” Waters said. “I talked to mental health [representatives] before I left Newtown. If I need help, I know where I can get it.”
But she’s hardly taken a breath between trips. Today, she is set to go to New Jersey to help with Red Cross efforts in response to Hurricane Sandy. She already was there for 3 weeks in November.
Since joining the Red Cross in 2001, Waters has taken a dozen long trips, most in recent years. In 2011, she spent nearly 5 weeks responding to three disasters in Mississippi – two tornadoes and a flood. Red Cross covers her costs.
In their spare time, she and her husband, Lee Waters, breed bull mastiffs. The couple lives on a 40-acre farm northwest of Morrison, where she said they have planted thousands of trees.
A dozen years ago, Waters, who wouldn’t give her age, retired from Keebler in Elmhurst, a Chicago suburb. She and her husband then moved to the Morrison farm, which was in her husband’s family.
Waters said she joined Red Cross because she wanted to meet people in the area. She belongs to the Rock Falls-based Lincoln Land chapter of the Red Cross.
Members of the Lincoln Land chapter have gone to a number of out-of-state disasters, but Waters was the only local one to respond to Newtown, said Amber Wood, who heads Lincoln Land and the Gateway Area chapter in Clinton, Iowa.
Waters said Newtown was the first time she responded to something that wasn’t a natural disaster. She felt she had gained enough experience over the years to handle the job.
“You have to know when to ask something or when to be quiet,” she said. “You can’t be intrusive.”
The American Red Cross responds to disasters, including local fires.
To help victims of local disasters by making a contribution to the Red Cross, call the Lincoln Land Branch at 815-625-0382 or mail a check to 112 W. Second St., Rock Falls, IL 61071.