Hope Unlimited provides comfort to families during emergencies

STANWOOD — When chaplain Dean Jenkin is called to a scene, he asks himself how he would want someone to treat his family if they were going through an emergency.

That care and kindness is what he offers those in crisis.

Jenkin, 56, is among more than a dozen volunteer chaplains with Stanwood Camano Incident Support, a nonprofit primarily serving north Snohomish County and Camano Island.

The chaplains group is part of Hope Unlimited, a faith-based nonprofit in Stanwood that provides life-skills classes for single-parent families.

The chaplains were called to 174 emergency incidents last year, senior chaplain Ralph Fry said.

So far this year, they’ve been called to more than 120, including the March 22 mudslide that killed 43 people near Oso. One of the team’s chaplains, Joel Johnson, has been assigned full time to the Oso fire station.

All of the chaplains are trained through a program at the state criminal justice training center, said Fry, 76. They learn how to assist people of all cultures and faiths, particularly in the sensitive areas of beliefs regarding death and burial.

“The word ‘chaplain’ connotes faith, but we’re not there to talk to people about faith,” Fry said. “We’re there just to be a presence and a comfort.”

After the mudslide, the county sheriff’s office asked the chaplains for help in notifying the families of the dead, said Karen McMillan, 52.

County Executive John Lovick wanted each family to hear the news in person, unless they requested otherwise, Fry said.

The chaplains also are on call around-the-clock for Cascade Valley Hospital in Arlington, spokeswoman Jennifer Egger said.

If patients are being transferred to another hospital, the chaplains give their families a ride, she said. The doctors are often focused on their patients, but chaplains are there for everyone, Egger said.

“They’re there just to sit with families and just be there for them and just offer prayers if they need them or just be a sounding board,” she said. “We love them.”

Chaplains often help those in grief navigate the difficult conversations with police, firefighters, the medical examiner’s staff and others that suddenly surround them, Fry said.

Sometimes, the help might be sweeping a floor, doing the dishes or watching small children while their parents talk to investigators, Jenkin said. The chaplains drive retired ambulances stocked with clothes, blankets, water, coffee, snacks, stuffed animals and dog food.

Jenkin, a longtime pastor and youth minister, had been approached about being a chaplain before and declined, he said.

When Fry came to him, Jenkin figured it was God knocking on his door, he said.

Jenkin sees his chaplaincy as God’s work, he said.

“I’m just thankful he includes me in it,” Jenkin said.

Hope Unlimited was started more than a decade ago when Fry and his wife moved to Stanwood. He asked the fire department if they needed chaplains, and they did.

The chaplains group and the single-parent family class were created to address two needs Fry saw in the community, he said. Ten families took part in the most recent 12-week class.

“Everybody needs help,” Fry said.

“No one should have to walk alone.”

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

Learn more

For information about volunteering for Hope Unlimited, which includes the Stanwood Camano Incident Support chaplains, or making a donation, call 360-387-1512. Volunteering opportunities include teaching and cooking. The group also is asking for help funding a full-time chaplain position stationed inside the Oso fire hall. The position is set to expire at the end of September.

Hope Unlimited plans “A Night of Hope” benefit concert at 7 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Stanwood High School Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $40 and available at brownpapertickets.com and the Stanwood and Camano Island branches of Coastal Community Bank. Featured acts include The Coats and Leanna Crawford.

For more information, email hopeunlimited@wavecable.com or call 360-319-6411.

For information about Single Family Class classes in Stanwood, call 425-387-0923. The free, 12-week faith-based class is for single parents and their children. The class focuses on grief, communication and relationships.

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