When sudden tragedy strikes in people’s lives, they can feel isolated in a fog of grief, confusion and uncertainty.
In the immediate aftermath of trauma, they often just need someone to stand by them — and it takes extraordinary people, with uncommon strength and compassion, to give their time to helping strangers experiencing the worst moments of their lives.
It takes Angelenos like Burnett Oliver.
Burnett has been a member of the Mayor’s Crisis Response Team (CRT) for more than six years — one of more than 300 volunteers who each donate 36 hours a month to a singular mission: helping victims and families take the first steps toward recovery from the unexpected death of a loved one, violent crime, fires, traffic accidents and other traumatic incidents.
He came to this work out of a sense of empathy, after coping with the loss of his own mother and spending decades working to help neighbors in the Arlington Heights community he has lived in for decades. In his time as a member of the CRT, Burnett has responded to more incidents than he can count — but he’ll never forget one of the first times he rolled out after completing his training: to the scene of a drive-by shooting in South L.A.
“In a moment like that, it’s really just about being there for someone,” Burnett said. “Our role is to engage, help provide for immediate needs, and do our best to organize support systems by notifying relatives, connecting victims with their clergy, and giving them some direction. That’s what people need when they’re under that kind of stress.”
The work performed by Burnett and his fellow CRT volunteers can mean the difference between whether people stay broken, or are able to begin healing and putting their lives back together. They might be mental health professionals, members of the clergy, or just everyday Angelenos.
At the request of the Los Angeles Police or Fire Department, CRT members arrive on scene within a half-hour — staying on hand for up to 12 hours or more to provide immediate crisis intervention, to act as a go-between for victims and emergency workers, and to guide people to services when they need more assistance.
I had the honor of speaking to the latest class of CRT graduates at a ceremony held in May, and was proud to salute the incredible service they give to the people of L.A. They do this work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and in 11 languages. After more than 15 years in operation, the CRT has become a model for crisis response and intervention in cities around the world; last year, 138 members of the team received the President’s Volunteer Service Award, which honors Americans who live their lives in a spirit of service and selflessness.
In partnership with South L.A. faith leaders, I started a Clergy Task Force pilot program within the CRT last year — and we’re looking for more quiet heroes from all walks of life to step forward across the city: The application deadline for the next CRT class is Aug. 26. Training will be held over nine weeks at LAPD headquarters, two days a week Sept. 20-Nov. 20.
“Unfortunately we’re all just a phone call away from hearing news that can change our lives forever.I don’t wish that on anybody, but it’s just reality. It’s life,” Burnett said. “This work is not easy, but the training and the experience becomes a part of you. We’re all human, and this is an opportunity to help someone else get through a tough moment that they’re in. It’s about looking out for one another. People need to stay focused on that. That’s a golden virtue — and it should be protected, preserved and shared.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Community Report” column runs the first Thursday of every month in The Wave.
For more information about Summer Night Lights 2016, go online to lamayor.org/snl.
Learn more about Jermaine’s story at lamayor.org/jermaine.To learn more about the Mayor’s Crisis Response Team, visit the website at http://www.lacrt.org. Inspired to join the CRT? Fill out an application at tinyurl.com/fallcrt2016 or contact CRT Bureau Manager Yovani Estrada at (213) 978-1965.