When an unexpected death, a traumatic injury, a car accident or a fire strikes, a cadre of local volunteers swings into action to help those affected by the tragedy. Called the Trauma Intervention Program, or TIP for short, it is a service provided free of charge by Portland’s Community Counseling Center.

On Thursday night at the Holiday Inn by the Bay, more than 200 guests gathered for the Heroes with Heart awards dinner. The annual event honors the TIP volunteers and the police, fire and medical professionals who make this work possible and raised more than $26,000 for the program.

With WMTW-8 news anchor Shannon Moss and interim CEO Mary Jane Krebs on the stage, eight awards were handed out after dinner.

The evening’s top award, the Heart of Gold, went to Kate Braestrup, who is a New York Times best-selling author and chaplain for the Maine Warden Service. This special award was presented by Maj. Gen. John Libby of the Maine National Guard, who won the award last year.

The Volunteer Choice Award went to Seth Seder, a nurse at Maine Medical Center.

This year’s Heroes with Heart awards were presented to Sgt. Robert Doherty of the Portland Police Department, Sgt. Sean Lally of the Westbrook Police Department, Kandy Lefebvre, an emergency department nurse at Maine Medical Center, Officer Rocco Navarro of the South Portland Police Department, Lt. Aaron Osgood of the Portland Fire Department, and Chaplain Howard Sterling of the South Portland Fire Department.

Moss told us that “this past year, TIP volunteers assisted 181 first responders and helped 829 clients.”

During dinner, I enjoyed the company of a wonderful group of people. I sat between Russell Gauvin, a 2006 Heroes with Heart honoree and the current chief of the Capitol Police, and Portland Police Chief James Craig. Gauvin gave me some insight into the new atmosphere at the State House, and Chief Craig entertained us all with his comparison of news in his hometown of Los Angeles and Maine. Since Maine has considerably less crime, we report much more on the weather. The other big difference is that the paparazzi has yet to stake out the Jetport or our restaurants.

Also at the table was Janet Gauvin, award winner Sgt. Doherty, Commander Vern Malloch of the Portland Police Department, TIP volunteer Craig Treadwell and Cindy and Mark Delano of Scarborough, who lost their son Steven Delano last spring in a car crash as he was on his way to a prom. Treadwell was the TIP volunteer who was by their side in the immediate hours after the accident.

During the after-dinner program, Moss played a video of an interview she conducted with the Delanos. I know I wasn’t the only one who was brought to tears by the moving account and the strength of the Delanos in the face of such a tragedy.

During his remarks, board chair David Smith offered special praise to staff members Rebecca Hoffmann Frances and Erin Smith for coordinating this event, which is the primary funding mechanism for the TIP program.

“When someone is impacted by trauma, it’s a devastating experience,” Krebs told me during the cocktail reception. “The TIP volunteers are people who go above and beyond all the time. The people who do this work are so deeply compassionate.”

“I’ve seen some of these volunteers in action over the death of a child,” Elizabeth McLellan, a charge nurse at Maine Medical Center, told me. “The volunteers come in and help the family deal with the trauma.”

Her colleague, Julianne Ontengco, who is Maine Med’s chief nurse practitioner for trauma and critical care, wholeheartedly agreed.

“The TIP folks are amazing,” Ontengco said. “It relieves the (medical) staff to go back and take care of the patient.”

The 38 TIP volunteers gave more than 10,000 hours of their time last year. Additional volunteers are always needed.

“There’s a large need,” board member Cindy Libby told me. “We have programs for veterans, immigrants, children and elders. Our program is very broad.”

Leslie Skillin-Calder, who trains the TIP volunteers, told me about the commitment and service these people provide to the community.

“The background of our volunteers is varied,” Skillin-Calder said. “Students, business owners, homemakers. It takes a willingness to put yourself aside and care for someone in a crisis. It does take a special person to do it.”

Following an extensive initial training program, the volunteers then commit to serving three 12-hour shifts each month, plus a three-hour monthly training session.

One of the organization’s longest-serving volunteers is Sandy Grubb of South Portland, who has been part of the program for five and a half of the six years it’s been in operation. She told me what most of us would say to someone in a crisis, the “it’s going to be OK” type of statement, is the absolute wrong thing to say to someone experiencing tragedy.

“I don’t know how many times I say, ‘I’m so sorry,’ ” Grubb told me. “And often I just need to be silent with them. You come and bring that calm to the storm.”

She and the other volunteers help families understand there are many ways to grieve. While one person may sob, another may want to punch a wall and another may just need to sit in shocked silence.

It’s the TIP volunteer’s job to be present with the person and offer comfort and assistance navigating the system.

“After each call,” Grubb told me, “I walk away knowing that I just made their personal 9/11 a little bit easier.”

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:
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