For some, helping others comes easy; it’s almost second nature. This is the case for Matthew Cobb, the executive director of the Meadowlark Hills Foundation in Manhattan.
Cobb, who is also a chaplain, recently returned from New York, where he spent time helping the victims of Hurricane Sandy by administering spiritual care.
Meadowlark Hills retirement community asked that Cobb be sent to New York as a volunteer during the disaster rather than stay in Kansas to collect and send clothing or other needed items. Cobb, who has been a part of the American Red Cross National Chaplain Team for four years, said if they activated him he would be happy to go. Within three hours of his promise, The Red Cross contacted him requesting his aid.
“Our residents wanted to reach out from the Little Apple to the Big Apple by contributing something meaningful,” Cobb said. “By sending our one of own and having boots on the ground it was about the best we could do.”
Cobb arrived in New York two weeks after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast. He worked as a community organizer, first responder, trauma recovery worker and as a stress debriefer. By using his ability to stay calm in the midst of chaos, he was able to help victims cope with Sandy’s devastation, transitioning into a long-term recovery plan.
“These people lost their family members and everything else in the flood… A lot of traumatic deaths had to be recounted,” he said.
Because of some of the intense situations he witnessed, Cobb said he had a growing concern that many people would develop acute distress syndrome or post-traumatic stress disorder. These people needed one-on-one help from someone who had intensive training in how to process trauma mentally and spiritually — someone like Cobb.
“I’ve always thrived in the midst of crisis because of my ability to stay very calm, non-anxious and be non-judgmental,” he said. “I’m a good hugger, and sometimes that is all people need.”
By the time he left New York, his job was no longer about handing out water bottles and warm blankets; it was about helping the city take control again. One of the final tasks he undertook before coming back to Kansas was mediating, mitigating and minimizing conflicts between volunteer organizations and within the city.
New Yorkers frequently asked him about his accent, giving him the opportunity to share how he came to volunteer so far from home.
“Many people couldn’t believe someone from Kansas would come to help out in New York,” he said. “I was a little seed of hope to them in the midst of disaster.”
After returning to Kansas, Cobb communicated to the Meadowlark Hills community how the Little Apple’s love was delivered to the Big Apple and how much it meant to the people of New York. He also was invited by the American Red Cross to write a case study detailing the disaster spiritual care he personally administered to Hurricane Sandy victims.
In addition to his work with the Red Cross, Cobb has spent many hours working with soldiers in Fort Riley’s reintegration programs. His current projects at Meadowlark Hills include philanthropy, development and fundraising.
Cobb said his volunteer work in New York was a reminder that there are more ways to help people than just giving money.
“There is a whole other side to giving,” he said. “I think going to New York helped us as a community to re-establish why we exist and why we care about certain things.”