Restoring Family Links: A One-year miracle in the making

Stories and photo are from American Red Cross Los Angeles Chapter. Story written by Juliana An, International Services Summer Intern. 

[From left to right] Juliana An, Kerry Khan, and Red Cross client. Photo Credit: American Red Cross Los Angeles Region Chapter.

[From left to right] Juliana An, Kerry Khan, and Red Cross client. Photo Credit: American Red Cross Los Angeles Region Chapter.

Miracles are called miracles because they never happen. Even when we know that miracles are rare, we cannot help but hope for the best. With this mindset, I, a student intern with the Red Cross Los Angeles Region, witnessed the incredible moment when the Red Cross succeeded in bringing about a miracle for one special family.

For over a year, Restoring Family Links caseworkers in the International Services department have been working to reconnect a sister, Lazara, living in Cuba and her brother, Juan, living in the United States. Due to migration, the siblings were separated for over 16 years and not spoken during that time period. That’s why it was a surprise when the sister received two letters from her brother in August of 2014. Reading the letter’s distressing news of his admittance to a mental health facility, Lazara repeatedly sent letters to Juan. Receiving no response after the first two letters, Lazara reached out to the Cuban Red Cross, which contacted the L.A. Region through the International Red Cross. Lazara requested our services in the form of a Red Cross Message to know if he was alive and if so, how and where he was.

Since receiving this request in March 2015, the Los Angeles chapter contacted every mental health outpatient clinic in central Los Angeles. Each stop led to another and brought something new to the table. With new information suggesting that Juan was homeless, our volunteers then visited every homeless shelter in the area where he was last known to be staying. Continuing the case despite its disconcerting sense of failure, they were looking for a needle in a haystack.

Along the journey, a steady group of volunteers have contributed much of their time and effort. Volunteer caseworkers Carmela Burke and Doug Wiita have continuously shown interest in the success of this case even when it meant searching all of Skid Row. Our chapter also partnered with the Los Angeles Police Department which linked us to Detective Ed Dorroh, who played an important role in the search.

Red Cross client writes a letter to his sister, which will be delivered through the Cuban Red Cross. Photo Credit: American Red Cross Los Angeles Region Chapter.

Red Cross client writes a letter to his sister, which will be delivered through the Cuban Red Cross. Photo Credit: American Red Cross Los Angeles Region Chapter.

 

Extraordinarily, he was able to spot the missing man from across a busy downtown street while on a coffee run. If it weren’t for a photo that his sister in Cuba provided, Detective Dorroh would not have recognized him. If Detective Dorroh had not visited Starbucks that day or if the client had not miraculously appeared, there would be no happy ending to this story.

On August 9, 2016, I had the opportunity to follow my supervisor, Kerry Khan, who oversees our Region’s International Services, and a lovely volunteer, Carmela Burke, to downtown Los Angeles where Detective Dorroh had last seen the person we were trying to locate. As he was homeless, there were no addresses or records to concentrate our scope. Questioning each other and having serious doubts, we walked around downtown L.A. for nearly an hour.

Then, somehow, we spotted him from across the street sitting under a tree in a park directly across from the Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters. We approached him, introduced ourselves, and handed him the letter from his sister. It felt like a miracle. A second to turn our heads or a second to ignore the ubiquitous presence of homeless people in downtown LA could have changed the outcome. An endless number of possibilities could have played out. Returning with the letter that the client wrote for his sister, we hope that the siblings can unite together as U.S. relationships with Cuba are friendlier than ever.

Looking back and replaying the turn of events, I believe that this was a miracle, yet it feels disturbing to believe it is. If this moment was a miracle, then it must rarely happen. My belief sheds insight on how rare these simple acts of kindness are. As a growing young adult, I am more selfish to live my life heedless of the effect on the people around me.

Subconsciously, we walk away from those who seek help, yet we desperately seek it when we feel vulnerable.

During my time this summer as an intern in the Red Cross West L.A. headquarters, I saw the opposite. People reacted and responded to help. To deal with California’s wildfires, to connect families, or to support veterans, volunteers came together. Perhaps these volunteers know that at the end of the day we are all people who might feel vulnerable tomorrow.

"Frankly, if I were not a Red Cross volunteer, I would have not paid attention to the homeless man who has a story of his own. Maybe, it felt like a miracle because humane or kind acts are rare in the world."

This story is a follow-up to Los Angeles Region's Chapter blog "Reconnecting Families Caseworks: How One Lead led to Another."